If there's one word parents would say they use the most around their children, it's probably the word, "No." These two simple letters often spark a battle of the wills between parent and child, leaving at least one party crushed and frustrated in the aftermath. This is exactly what happens to Iowa parents Sankari and Keith when fielding requests from their 9-year-old son. But is there a different (easier) way to handle this type of situation than an all-out "no"?
This is what Sankari and Keith want to know when they Skype into "Oprah's Lifeclass" with clinical psychologist and parenting author Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Pointedly, Sankari asks Shefali how she can say "no" to her son without crushing his spirit -- and yes, Shefali says, it is possible.
Shefali begins by explaining what happens to a child when he hears the word 'no.'
"The 'no' is a soul-crusher, because life is 'yes.' Life is affirming. Life is always saying, 'yes,'" she says. "However, we, because we're so focused and anxiety-based, egoic and controlling, we go straight for the 'no.'"
This triggers within the child a natural urge to fight for a life-affirming "yes" they want to hear. As an example, Shefali dissects the familiar bedtime battle between parent and child.
"Your child says, 'Mommy, I don't want to go to bed,' and you go, 'No! You have to go to bed!'" she says. "You started a war of the egos, correct? Because she's going to fight for her life-affirming desire to stay awake."
So how do you shift into the "yes?" Shefali suggests literally incorporating the life-affirming "yes" into your response to your child before you say anything else.
"'Yes, I know you want to stay awake. Of course you want to stay awake. I want to stay awake and eat candy with you. I get it,'" Shefali suggests parents say to their kids resisting bedtime. "First, you connect to the life-affirmation that exists in each one of us. Because you know what you're going to do when she falls asleep -- you're going to go get your bottle of wine and your slice of cake and you're going to affirm your life!"
Similarly, children just want to experience life-affirming "yes" as well. Once you've done that, you can shift the conversation.
"We're going to tell them that, 'I love your body and you aren't listening to your body. Let me teach you: Your body wants to sleep,'" Shefali says. "You try and teach them to say 'yes' to sleep."
Regardless of the situation -- whether it's bedtime or your child's desire to want an age-inappropriate movie -- this approach can work wonders. "Affirm the 'yes' in your child first," Shefali reiterates. "You just shift the energy... Let's connect with [their] need rather than always resisting."
"Oprah's Lifeclass" airs on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.