Respecting a Child’s ‘NO’

Should a child’s NO be taken into consideration?

My 13 months old baby is in teething phase and prefers to eat as per his liking. He is mostly self-fed, with no distractions whatsoever. One fine evening, him not accepting any of the 3 dishes I had prepared for dinner, I was tempted to force feed Yohaan to make sure his tummy was full, and he would wake up less often for his night feeds. I firmly held a spoonful of vegetables in front of his mouth and insisted him to eat it. Not used to being force fed, he nodded his head frantically, with an astonishing look on his face.

I withdrew my hand, the soul of the Indian mother inside of me in dilemma, thinking what to do next? Logically, my baby was still hungry according to me, and yet refused to eat anything.

The moment struck me.

He knows his hunger better than I do, and hence, had refused to eat. Why should another person decide for his hunger, right?


That NO meant that he was not hungry.

That he knows how much and what to eat.

That he is confident about his decision and intends to voice it.

And we adults must respect a child’s NO for an answer.

Let’s think of the consequences of accepting and respecting your child’s ‘NO’. There are 3 levels to it:

Learning Hunger Cues

Respecting a child’s NO during mealtimes encourages him to eat as per his hunger. It prevents the child into developing the habit of overeating and mindless eating, both causing obesity and then diseases in future.

The Parenting

This one is difficult at first. Stopping when your child says NO not just during meals but in general too sends a signal to your baby that you respect his decision, and don’t force him afterwards. This will help you in 2 ways:

  • The child will learn to say NO only when he means to and is less likely to throw tantrums in future. Yes, you might have to watch your child making a few mistakes initially, but trust me, this pays off well in future.
  • The child will mimic your response and start respecting your NO as well. Stubbornness goodbye!

The Psychological Part of Respecting a Child’s ‘NO’

I feel this is the most important part. Respecting your child’s NO means

  • He is psychologically understanding the reason, the meaning and the effect of a NO. So, when he grows up, he can well identify when to say NO, and what to expect next. This simple act of acknowledgment may protect him from being bullied in future.
  • The child will also understand when to stop upon hearing a NO from someone outside as well. He becomes more empathetic and humbler and learns to respond rather than reacting to life situations.
  • The child now takes in a NO simply as an answer and moves ahead. The hurt ego and the struggle afterwards are just not there anymore.
  • A child becomes more aware of his thoughts and better able to take decisions, a step towards building self-confidence.

Our responsibility as Parents

  • Learn to accept NO for an answer and act reasonably.
  • NO must be said politely and smilingly, until the child learns to speak.
  • Punishment and fear of any form should be avoided at all costs, at least up to 2 years of age.

Your child is a human being after all and has the right to voice his opinion. Respect his decision, even when he is young and about to make a mistake. It is high time we understand that being a mother/father does not justify you bossing around your child.

What are your ways of respectful parenting?

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