Is it OK to say NO?

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This is an interaction between a little girl of 4 years, let us call her G and her grandmother trying to feed her near the swings. Let’s call her D.

G :  “I don’t want to eat.”
D: “Sit in one place.”
G: No
D: Aren’t you a good girl?
G: No
D( in raised voice): Don’t you want to grow big?
G: No
By now patience is wearing, so D catches hold of her and scolds: “Haven’t I told you before that you should never say ‘NO’ to your elders. Your answer must always be ‘YES’”.


The girl shrinks and follows her grandmother back inside.

I watch this interaction from a distance and it gets me wondering. In this day and age, do we still want our children and specially girls to be docile and submissive? I know plenty of people, including me to some extent, whose biggest problem is the inability to say ‘NO’. It is something that they struggle with throughout their lives whether it is their career or family.  We want our children to be assertive and stand up to bullies outside but we do not want them to say ‘NO’ to us. How can a child of 3 or 4 understand this logic?

One of my daughter’s friends, who is an year older, came home one evening and they started having a fight while playing. I admonished them at hitting each other to which the girl replies “I am older than A, so I can hit her but she cannot hit me”. Upon asking why, she told me that her mother has taught her that older people can hit children but children should never hit back. I was shocked and told her that it is not right for anyone to hit others.


Are we giving mixed signals to our children in the name of raising well-behaved children? How can a child who has been taught to never say ‘NO’ and to not defend him/herself refuse when someone tries to take advantage of him/her in the worst possible way? Are we not setting them up for failure by telling that they should not trust their instincts to protect themselves?

Another incident I witnessed in a mall, where a mother is telling her child, who was in the middle of a temper tantrum.

”Haven’t I told you, you should always smile. Only bad children get angry?”


This statement helped no one and the child ended up howling even more while her mum dragged her to the car. But it got me thinking. Aren’t children little people too? Don’t they have a right to have mood swings or frustrations just like adults?

I know these are lots of questions and no answers. I don’t want to judge anyone based on isolated incidents, but such incidents happen all the time around us and within our own houses and do make one think. All of us reprimand our children when things go out of hand, but these incidents caught my attention because of the either-or finality. Either you behave in a certain way or you are not good. If you do not always show perfect behaviour, you are bad. Are we not diminishing their self-esteem by these seemingly harmless statements uttered in anger?

More Musings:

Letter to A after First Week of School

My Moment of Optimism

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