Courtesy of Sarah Bunton

I Said "No" To All Of My Son's Requests For A Week & Here's What Happened

No. It’s the only word your child may say more to you than you do. In fact, “no” is my son’s favorite word right now. He’s 2 years old and is at that crucial and crazy stage where his desire for independence far outweighs his actual ability to achieve it. The number of times a day I hear, “No, I do it!” followed by exasperated grunts when he inevitably is unable to do it is ridiculous. God bless him, that boy is nothing if not determined. But sometimes his requests (or demands, if I’m being honest) require me to say “no” to my son unless I want a visit from child services. (Like, for instance, when he wants to stand on the table, jump off said table, and go to school without pants on.)

Lately I’ve been feeling like my son has become immune to the word, though. I even worried about his hearing for a hot minute before I realized that his tiny ears were totally fine; he was just obstinate. I actually love that he’s so stubborn. You could say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree there. I’m thankful to have a child whose ambition knows no bounds because he will undoubtedly show fierce resilience in adulthood. But I’m not talking about the future. Right now, I’m wondering why my son doesn’t respond to my admonitions and if it’s because I’m just not saying “no” enough.

The Experiment

Courtesy of Sarah Bunton

My husband has often said that I’m far too soft on our precocious son. But I argue that sometimes my partner is too hard on him. In my mind, he’s still a sweet, little, innocent baby. Yet reality is becoming significantly more difficult to ignore with each crayon mark on the table and purposely spilled food on the floor. So I decided that maybe my partner was right. (Shh! Don’t tell him I said that.) Perhaps the inconsistency and infrequency with which I tell our son “no” is the real reason he doesn’t really listen to me. The idea was to be firm and unwavering when it came to saying the dreaded word for an entire week. Would he be more obedient, more stubborn, or something else entirely by day seven? The better question: Would I be able to stick with it without giving in or crying?

Here's what happened.

Day 1: He Can't Or I Can't?

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Upon starting this little endeavor, I figured the hardest part would be dealing with the fallout from whenever I told my son he couldn't do something. But only a few hours into day one and I realized that I was the one who was struggling. "I can't say 'no!'" I thought to myself.

All it took was the pout of his bottom lip and the tears brimming in his big blue eyes, and I was feeling like Superman around kryptonite. I had told him no, we couldn't go outside (it was raining), and despite all his heartbreaking pleas, I surprised myself by sticking with the whole "no" thing. It really helped that I had a legitimate excuse. The rain would've made playing impossible.

Days 2 & 3: A Blur

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Because life with a toddler is unpredictable at best, my son had picked up a bug from school and, since he's so generous, he gave it to me as well. It's astonishingly such a pendulum swing of emotions to be the stricter disciplinarian when you and your child are sick. One on hand, it was impossibly difficult to deny my son every little thing he wanted because he was so sick and pitiful just laying there on the floor with zero energy.

Yet on the other, Purell-covered, hand, I had little to no patience. So when I said "no," I didn't want to have to repeat myself multiple times. There are only so many times a parent can tell a child not to climb the furniture and smear their snotty little noses over every surface. The days became a blur of reprimands and denied requests. That could be partially because Nyquil and I were BFFs, but it also could have been because I was so exhausted from being sick that I didn't have the energy to sweat the small stuff.

Day 4: We Both Can't Even

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As the cold-like bug was beginning to be more manageable for both of us, we went back to our hitting our day-in and day-out rhythm. Perhaps it was because he and I weren't entirely back to feeling 100 percent yet, but we both gave zero f*cks about the other's comments. He'd demand something (like getting to color some more after he just "expressed himself creatively" all over the coffee table), I would calmly say "no," and he would just grumble.

Occasionally he would entirely ignore my denial and just proceed with whatever he wanted to do, usually something dangerous or disastrous, like trying to move lawn equipment (see above picture). And when he would do something like that, I wouldn't even verbally acknowledge his disobedience. I'd simply remove him from the situation and ignore his protests. In a way, it made things easier for both of us because he didn't get frustrated with a drawn out back-and-forth situation, and I wasn't indulging or enabling those types of situations either.

Day 5: Does Majority Rule?

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As I've previously mentioned, my partner has always been the one to "lay down the law" without any hemming or hawing. I've always been the pushover who can't stand to hear our son cry when he doesn't get what he wants. So I was hoping and wondering if this experiment would lead to my husband and I to not only form a united front with our parenting, but also to closer as parents and spouses. To be completely honest, I didn't even tell my husband that I was embarking on this endeavor. I had hoped that actions would indeed speak louder than words. Or just one word, really: "No."

I decided on the fifth day that I'd bring the whole thing up to him and see what changes, if any, he noticed in either my parenting style or our son's behavior, or possibly even both. To my surprise, he said that he did see that I was being unapologetically firm when it came to denying our son something. He actually said he was proud of me for not wavering on things because he felt it would send a more consistent message to our son. But personally, I didn't find any major differences in our son's behavior. So did it matter if my husband and I outnumbered our son on saying "no" to him? To our toddler and to me, it didn't seem like having an additional parent saying "no" deterred him or dampened his persistence.

Day 6: Losing My Will

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Even though the metaphorical finish line was within my grasp, I was finding it harder and harder to do everything that comes with only saying "no" to your kid. I was exhausted from repeating myself, feeling guilty for shutting him down so much, and even somewhat bored by the monotony of being the wet blanket during my son's various attempts to get his way or engage in something he shouldn't be doing. Sure, playing drums in the "grownup" rocking chair doesn't sound too bad, but I've seen him take one too many spills trying to navigate it solo.

Most of my family and close friends will tell you that I practically wrote the book on being stubborn and never backing down from a challenge. Even when I was pregnant I was super confident that I'd always outlast my kid in a contest of wills. But, as it turns out, what I envisioned my life as a parent to be like strayed far from reality. I mean, where does my son get this energy from? I could say "no" a hundred times to him asking for more cookies, and plea number 101 would have just as much urgent desperation behind it as the first one did, whereas my answers quieted with each response. I still managed not to cave in, but boy, was it draining me.

Day 7: It's The End! Yay?

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I thought, as I usually do, that by the seventh day of an experiment I would have reached some great point of enlightenment or gained a new-found clarity on life. Sometimes that truly is the case, and it's great to have such opportunities to grow and learn about yourself as a person and as a parent. But for this particular experiment, the final day felt somewhat hollow. There was no tangible reward, like having a clearer complexion, and there was no emotional discovery, like realizing exactly where I stand on corporal punishment. There also wasn't any kind of relief.

I continued to say "no," just as I had done during the six previous days, but I felt neither victorious nor defeated by this challenge. And my son didn't appear to be thriving with my consistent strictness nor did he act like his spirit had broken in the wake of my firm parenting. He continued to attempt to climb up slides regardless. In a way, I was disappointed because it felt like I hadn't done anything productive for either myself or my son in terms of structure, discipline, or overall parenting. So day seven concluded with a whimper, not a bang.

Is "No" Still In My Vocabulary?

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Or course I continue to say "no" to my son. I don't know a single parent who never utters the word. Though it took no conscious effort on my part, I reverted to (what I call) my more empathetic parenting style without even a second thought. I like being the one my son runs to when he's upset. That's not to say my husband is overly gruff or lacks compassion, because he's actually quite the affectionate teddy bear once you get to know him. But still, my heart feels full when my son chooses me to comfort him. And I enjoy being the primary parent to engage in messy or silly arts and crafts type projects.

Will I cave in as frequently as I did before this experiment? If I'm being real with y'all, I probably will. I'm not particularly proud of my inconsistency with setting boundaries. I'll share my food with him or let him play dress up in my clothes even though others have said they think it's setting a bad example that I'm not defining my space versus his. But I guess only time will tell if my tendencies had any negative impact on my son's development. At least he'll always know he can come to me for a hug no matter how old he is.