No is not a dirty word

Perhaps you read the post I naively authored on a whim in last April, entitled “MY CHILD IS NOT REQUIRED TO SHARE WITH YOURS”, after a trip to the park with my son Carson.

The post, to my shock and horror, was then shared a quarter of a million times, featured on every news outlet from here to Mars, and translated into most languages spoken on earth.

No? You missed it? Well, here it is:

If you have several hours to kill and should decide to use them to read through the 1700+ comments on this post, you’ll see that people felt very strongly, one way or another, about my giving my 5 year old permission to say “no” to sharing his toys. 

In fact, I received tons of hateful messages, containing everything from racial slurs to prayers my 5 year old gets cancer. 

Yes, really. (Who raised you people? Not I.) 

I was horrified at first. However, I received even more comments and messages from adults saying how much they appreciated the perspective and that they could have saved themselves a whole pile of problems had someone had taught them how to say no!

Trolls can’t stop my shine.

Even setting the rudeness aside, I cannot for the life of me understand why teaching our kids to say no isn’t common sense.

WE ALL NEED MORE NO. We need to say no more, and we need to hear no more!

I am a self-made woman. I come from nothing and I humbly tell you that I’ve built a life I’m proud of, from the aforementioned nothing. I’m pretty forthcoming in sharing my past, my experiences, and how I got to where I am today. My students appreciate that and can relate to my hardships, which in turn helps them become more successful. Forbes was so kind in their remarks when they featured me there:

“Kolberg makes transparency look easy when discussing everything she has endured to get to where she is today with her business, as many aren’t as introspective around how past tragedies shaped and set them up for success today.”

The obstacles I’ve faced and the lessons I’ve learned on my journey not only shape how I conduct myself professionally, but also dictate how I raise my children.

I am a woman who has seen too much. Also:

I am a big believer in owning your decisions and taking action.

I’m a believer in controlling your own future.

I’m a believer in building your life the way you want it to look, rather than just allowing life to happen to you.

It’s why I do what I do, which is teach beginners how to invest and make their money grow, so that people who are starting with little can make their money work for them and build a life unimpeded by financial constraints.

I’m a people watcher. Before I blogged, before I started making classes, I just kind of watched, listened, asked questions, paid attention to the nuggets people shared with me. I did this for years, back before I even thought about Bottom Up Wealth. Just watched.

I see such a strong trend among people who just can’t ever seem to get ahead financially.

They’re afraid to take action.

They’re terrified of mistakes.

They’re scared of stepping out of “the norm”.

They’re worried about what everyone thinks.

They’re worried someone will shame them for having tried a different way.

And you bet…people with perpetual financial difficulties have a difficult time with no. Both saying it, and accepting it.

Do you know how many people I’ve encountered who are in debt and stressed to the max because they don’t know how to say “no”?

“No, I don’t have $500 to loan you because you won’t pay it back.”

“No, I will not co sign for your vehicle. Your credit score requires a co-signer because you don’t pay your bills on time.”

“No, I will not chip in for that extravagant gift for that person, because I’m barely making ends meet.”

They can’t even say “no” with a very legitimate explanation, let alone just say “no” because it’s their right!

We can’t be all things to all people. We all should expect “no”, accept “no” and learn to use it ourselves!

As I mentioned in the post, I’m guilty of trying to do it all too. We all have areas to improve upon, and I am no exception.

Don’t we all want to raise our kids to be more resilient than we are?

Don’t we want to produce strong adults who can both accept rejection, and also create limits and boundaries for others?

I don’t think anyone here has a goal of raising a doormat!

The first course I created at Bottom Up Wealth was a stock investing course, Zero to Investor. My first round of students did great, but admitted they were completely shell-shocked because they weren’t just learning how to properly evaluate a stock; there is also a very necessary mindset shift involved when you decide to make your money work for you instead of the other way around.

I quickly realized that we needed to flip a 180 and get back to breaking the way our brains have been conditioned to work since we were in preschool.

Some of that conditioning that needed breaking is that we have to be all things to all people…even strangers!

Many of my students began learning with me with a mindset that they would never get out of their paycheck to paycheck circumstance.

Here is the shocking conclusion that most of them came to though: the vicious cycle of work-bills-work-bills is, more often than not, simply a symptom of allowing life to happen to you, rather than actively taking control of it!

In the park that day, Carson had brought his toys to share with my friend’s 3 year old, Claire. He had the idea of sharing these prized possessions with her, lovingly selected what he thought she would enjoy, and excitedly chatted about how much she’d love them the entire ride to the park.

When we got to the park, the boys who approached him did not say hello. They did not ask to play with him. They said, “Can I have that Transformer?” which was not really a question, but a demand. All at the same time, the older children forcefully attempted to help themselves to my son’s belongings.

The look on my son’s face as he turned to me had faded from the excitement he had initially (to share his toys with his friend), to one of helplessness as the plan he made to surprise his friend Claire was taken out of his hands, by people he didn’t even know!

That is the core of why I taught Carson that it was okay to firmly tell people that he did not know that no, they cannot take his things just because they want them. They do not have permission to alter the course of action he had been planning and anticipating for hours already.

The situation at hand involved sharing because sharing is a child’s situation, but the post was actually not about sharing at all. (This fairly obvious fact did not stop the media from dubbing me “the anti-sharing Mom”, of course.)

The post was about helping a child develop his own intuition, judgment, and sense of self. This isn’t something your kid can learn in a textbook in a chapter in middle school. These important concepts have to be molded over time. The longer, the better. And, in my opinion, this type of guidance is a parent’s job.

Read more about other ways I prepare my kids for a bright future in Tutorial: Make your Kid Rich With $10 A Week.

The habits and values you develop as a child as a child don’t just fall away when you reach adulthood. You don’t suddenly become a functioning adult. People enter adulthood with all kinds of baggage and hang ups that were developed as children.

I’m always remembering little nuggets of wisdom my parents had. At the time I wasn’t interested in listening to them…but they’ve shaped who I am in every way.

How is a person who can’t say no supposed to become a leader?

How is a person who can’t stand up for himself supposed to command respect?

How can a person who depletes themselves be a steward to others?

So where do you start developing that ability to use your judgment and set boundaries for others?

Do you really want to raise a child who can’t say no when their friends offer them drugs?

What happens when a child who doesn’t understand personal boundaries or self-preservation catches the eye of an abuser?

Mothers and fathers of little girls: do you really want parents of boys teaching their sons that the word “no” can be rejected, that everything is community property, and someone who is uncomfortable with an interaction with another person should get over it and accept forceful demands for the sake of keeping the peace?

Speaking of girls saying no, where do they learn to do that–say no to boys–if sharing is always caring? Do they stay home, out of sight (don’t bring toys to the park)?

When does a woman tell her husband that he can’t hit her anymore? When does she leave and stay gone?

When does her husband accept that when she said no more, she meant no more? Should he not have to accept that answer? Does he have a right to drag her home because that’s where he wants her?

Obviously, these are extreme and complex situations…but they’re all in the same vein. Don’t tell me my child is too young to pick up on how a healthy, mutually respectful relationship works. If I’m looking around, these lessons in human interaction aren’t being given consideration soon enough.

This is not victim shaming or blaming, for some of these situations I’m speaking on here. I’m not a psychologist. But common sense says when we show kids how to accept no early, they can continue accepting it into adulthood. No doesn’t have to be a traumatic event. It can just be one possibility of 2 outcomes, and they can move on.

With a stronger voice, a better understanding of what is okay and what isn’t, and an overall sense of self-protection, it might be possible for our children to more easily recognize and avoid some these kinds of toxic relationships, or at least have the courage to speak up that comes from realizing that you, yourself, are not *less* important than anyone else.

There are so many reasons why teaching our children to learn, accept and say “no” is not just okay, but in fact crucial to their survival.

How do you teach children to respect others’ judgment and decisions if they aren’t allowed to acknowledge their own? How are they even supposed to know that others have choices and boundaries too?

No is not a swear word. No is a very necessary word that should be used more often.

No is appropriate in all kinds of situations — they’re just situations that you don’t want to think about. Just because you don’t want to think about them, doesn’t mean they’re not out there waiting for your kid at some point. How will your child know how to cope?

Maybe you’ll wait for that unit in middle school, but this mama is definitely not counting on it.

I am actively and consciously raising tomorrow’s leaders.

You’re welcome.

Alanya Kolberg

Alanya Kolberg

Creator, founder, investment educator

Alanya Kolberg is a mother, wife, investor and entrepreneur. She founded Bottom Up Wealth to provide affordable, easy to understand wealth and investment education for people who are starting small.

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