updated 20 Mar 2011, 08:18
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Thu, Feb 17, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN
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Why saying 'no' to our kids is good parenting
by Audrey Tan-Zubiri

"I DON'T like Mama," says my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, her face stained with tears, as she runs to her father.

I don't like Mama either, I think to myself as I sigh and sink into a couch while my husband tries to cheer up our little girl.

This is a familiar scene in our home. Usually it comes after she is sent to "the corner" by me as punishment for some wrongdoing. At other times, it happens when she is being made to eat, sleep, sit in her car seat or take a bath.

Most days, everything goes smoothly and we are laughing and kissing all throughout. Then there are those days. It starts with a simple order. She meets it with a strong "Ayaw!"-my daughter prefers it over a simple "No"-which soon escalates into a wailing "Ayaaaaaaaaaaw!" loud enough for the entire barangay to hear.

I try everything from reasoning to cajoling, singing and dancing like a clown to make her understand why I am making her do something she seems to find so unbearable. In cases where her behavior merits a punishment, it starts with a demand for an apology and doesn't end until she gives it. Before you know it, the tears are flowing and we're in the middle of a power play of sorts. Sometimes I win. Sometimes, she does.

Not angry

The funny thing is, I rarely get upset, much less angry. A friend of mine once said you would have to be very creative to get me mad. And yet, I keep finding myself in these situations, sternly addressing my daughter or putting her in a corner for "time out," making me feel like an absolute witch.

I'm not at all angry during these times-how can I be when everything she does makes me want to laugh? I would say that 90 percent of those times, I'm not even upset with what she is doing and I am so tempted to just let things slide. I mean, seriously, so what if she refuses to sit in her car seat? We're going at the breakneck speed of 10 kilometers per hour on Edsa, anyway. Or if she doesn't want to kiss or share? She's two years old-she'll learn eventually.

And as for that bath, well, she's going to get dirty again, anyway, so I may as well let her be.

But then, this voice inside me (that I never knew existed!) suddenly speaks up and tells her to sit still in her car seat or we will bring her back home (Yeah, right!) or to eat her vegetables (Oh my! How cliché is that?). And take a bath, or the worms will come and eat your dirty toes! (Yuck. I don't even know how I thought of that.)

Thus, the battle ensues and, in my daughter's eyes, I become the angry villain in her life-and I hate it. I hate being the bad cop who has to watch her cry. It breaks my heart, because all I would like to do is put her on my lap and kiss her big fat tears away. But someone has to do it and, unfortunately, in our household, that someone is me.

Times like these, I am reminded of my own childhood. When I was growing up, my parents were strict. One look was all it took to keep me quiet if I knew what was good for me. Don't get me wrong, though, I had a very happy childhood filled with great memories of fun and love. But, of course, my folks had to pepper in some discipline, and it was back then that I remember thinking, one day, when it would be my turn, I would be much "nicer" and more "understanding" to my kids.

Much harder

I used to think that being strict was such a "mean" way to parent. Now I realize it was much harder on my parents to be that way than they let on. Nobody enjoys saying "No" to their loved ones, especially not a parent to their child, but it is perhaps one of the most loving things you can do; to risk your own-for lack of a better word-popularity with your child, for the sake of his or her own personal growth.

And so, I say "No" when it has to be said. I put my foot down and turn a deaf ear when she says "Wawa aku! Wawa si Ad-i-ana!" in between cries facing the corner. Or at least I try. Because heaven knows I'm still too new to all of these.

And so while I'm trying to correct her mistakes, I know I end up making my own, too. Top of my list would have to be consistency. Every book I've read says the same thing; be consistent. And yet, I sometimes find myself having different sets of behavioral standards for my daughter.

There's one for when she's at home and another for when we're in a party or when I'm busy and rushing. It can also depend on my mood and patience at that moment. Sometimes, I just don't have the heart to follow through with a threat or to force the issue. The result is, as expected, confusion; everything she learns during the week is forgotten overnight. It is like taking one step forward, two steps back.

Then there's what she sees or learns by watching me. How can I keep her away from sweets when she keeps catching me munching on cookies all the time? I guess this means I really should cut back and set a better example.

On second thought, never mind that, I'll just find a better hiding place.

I also worry about becoming a super nag of a mother, so I try to ignore the small harmless things. I noticed this makes a big difference, such as what happens between Adriana and her dad, Miguel. My husband rarely ever raises his voice with her while she is the ultimate daddy's girl. However, when push comes to shove and I'm at my wits' end trying to get her to obey, all it takes is one word from Migs and it's done.

Pretty good, I think to myself, and I make a mental note to refrain from picking on the small things so I can really exert myself when needed.

Good girl

The truth is, Adriana is a good girl. She really is. And the reason I try so hard to be tough on the discipline is because I'd like to keep her that way. I know she's still too young to learn the big things in life, but I worry that if I don't build a good foundation now, there'll be nothing to build principles and values on in the future.

And what a future I have dreamt for her and her brother! I'd like nothing more than for them to grow up to be truly good people, conscious of right from wrong and with a certain nobility that comes from the strength to do what is right, even in the face of the most tempting situations.

I once read somewhere that we are all travelers in this world. I'd like for them to always remember this and to be mindful of others' journeys in the hopes that their own journey through life would be one of kindness and consideration.

And so, the battles continue. And I know it will not get any easier as the years go by. But I know, or at least I hope, that one day all the effort will be worth it.

Incidentally, that strict mom I had growing up? I have no clue where she is now. She's been replaced by a best friend to me and an utterly doting and spoiling grandmother to Adriana and Juanmi.

When I asked her what happened, why she was so strict with me but so lax with my children, she basically answered that she was done with her job of disciplining me and she could do as she pleased with her grandchildren.

Because now, that time from my childhood has come. It's my turn.

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