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According to a UCLA survey, the average one-year-old hears the word “no” a whopping 400 times a day. That’s a lot of nos. In fact, there is a recent trend in parenting that encourages moms and dads to avoid using the word no altogether. With all the no-no-nos directed towards toddlers, it’s no surprise that once they learn the word “no,” they have no reservations about using it. (My eldest daughter loved the word so much, she replied no when offered a popsicle – even as she smiled and reached for it!) It almost seems to excite them. Indeed, they realize the distinct power of the word no early on.
"Our minds influence our reality."
But, the word can do a whole lot more than simply convey a refusal to put on one’s shoes.
Think back to the last time someone told you no. How did it make you feel? Even when someone says it kindly, the word no can set off a series of physical responses: feeling dejected, angry, sad, or heavy. Likewise, the word yes can spark the opposite experience. Professor of psychiatry, Dr. Daniel Siegel, says the brain has two different states: the Yes-Brain state and the No-Brain state. When you are in a Yes-Brain state, you are receptive and open; you feel at peace and are able to connect to others. On the other hand, the No-Brain state makes you feel reactive, agitated, and disconnected from others. In addition, one of the most insightful points he makes is that the No-Brain state also prevents you from connecting to your own internal experience, making you less self-aware and able to communicate your needs, thoughts, or desires.
This should be no surprise to students of Kabbalah. Ancient kabbalists teach that our minds influence our reality. Energy flows where your thoughts direct it; think positively and you will attract positive energy into your life. Think negatively and, well, you know... Of course, as adults, we have a tremendous amount of control over our state of mind. Children, who are still learning to navigate complex emotions are less able to metaphorically flip the switch.
A couple weeks ago, my youngest daughter, Abigail, brought a book home from the library, called No, David! Apparently, it was very popular among her friends at school. In the story, a young kid named David has a penchant for doing the exact opposite of what is expected of him. And, as you might guess, he often hears the word no. No to playing with his food. No to jumping on the bed. No to playing baseball indoors. No, no, no. As we read it together, I couldn’t help feeling bad for poor David.
"Activating the Yes-Brain takes work on our part."
In every classroom there is at least one child who needs a little more TLC than the others. Maybe she is gifted and becomes bored easily. Or maybe he is a kinetic learner and has a difficult time staying in his seat. Whatever the reason, it’s often not long before that child gets labeled as the “bad kid.” Kids can take on labels as early as preschool, and the sad truth is that labels are so hard to shake, most kids end up believing them – especially when all they hear is no!
In my heart of hearts, I believe there are no bad kids. Good kids make bad choices all the time, but that’s all they are – choices. Our job is to help guide them towards more positive action. And we can do so without activating the No-Brain. We can help shape their attitudes and choices towards openness and curiosity simply by shifting the way we communicate with them. Dr. Siegel suggests we use a Yes-Brain strategy when disciplining and talking to them. “Yes-Brain parenting is not about being permissive,” he says. “It’s about knowing how to skillfully create structure and learning in your child’s life so that the child comes to their inner and outer experiences with a sense of robustness and optimism.”
For many parents, the word no can become a crutch. It’s fast, easy, and conveys what you mean in one syllable. Activating the Yes-Brain takes work on our part; it requires us to think carefully about what we say and how we say it. For instance, it takes very little effort to say, “No, don’t touch that,” as opposed to, “I don’t want that vase to break. I’ll just move it out of your way.” The former statement can spark reactivity in a child. The latter makes the situation about the vase, not the child’s behavior.
Kabbalistically, each of us hold both positive and negative forces within us, and they are awakened depending on our consciousness. Children look to us to know how to respond to life. When we embrace negative emotions, they do as well. They see themselves reflected in our eyes. When we rely heavily on the word no, they can begin to see themselves through a negative lens. Kabbalah teaches that all of us are composed of pure Light, and our greatest strengths and qualities arise from the positive side. In order for there to be a positive side, a negative side must also exist. Without this duality, we would have no way to experience growth or realize our potential. However, when reactivity becomes the go-to response for us and our children, we hinder our full experience of life.
“Consciousness can influence, if not actually create, the physical universe,” says Rav Berg. Every single one of our thoughts, words, and actions is a manifestation of either positivity or negativity. The positive will outweigh the negative if we feed it. Whichever side you feed grows. When we bring consciousness to our parenting, we are able to respond to our children positively, and as a result, awaken positivity within them. By turning our thoughts and actions towards the positive, we can invite more Light into parenting and perhaps shift reality for ourselves and our children towards the better.