In a recent set of lessons I did with over 100 4th graders, I was interested to find out what the students felt about a number of issues. So as not to be influenced by others I had them close their eyes and respond to this question, “Raise your hand if you would like your parents to say no more often.” The result may astound you. Over half the students raised their hands. What can we assume from this finding, especially in one class where there was a 57% response?

An obvious answer is that your children want you to say no more often. Does it mean that 43% of students in that class did not want their parents to say no, or could we assume that many of these already have parents that often say no?

In a previous school I had a 14 year-old student sent to me for being very disrespectful to her teacher and her peers. I asked for her mother’s phone number. She asked if she could explain something. I asked her again for her Mom’s number. She pleaded with me to let her talk. The following is as close to her actual words as I was able to recall. “Mr. Burgess, You know that through my years here at this middle school I have only been in trouble a few times. When you guys have asked to speak to her she has come and made you believe she was going to deal with me when I got home. She always puts on a good show. I would never hear another thing about it.”

Seeing this as a possible learning experience for me I asked her, “Well, what would you like your mother to do or say to you? She replied, “If she would only say NO occasionally then I’d know she loved me!” I sat there in astonishment and have never forgotten it. Kids want us to say no, not just for the sake of it, but for their own reassurance that you care and to have boundaries that are not going to move.

Permissiveness often breeds contempt and insecurity. Kids want to please their parents and they want you to be firm. They need solid routines and clear boundaries. Enjoy your family this week and see them as a precious gift.