You know that Kevin Henkes book Owen? Owen is a kid starting school and he wants to take his blanket with him, which is not cool or allowed, so his parents run around exhausting themselves trying to beg and bribe and trick the kid into leaving the blanket home until finally the nosey next door neighbor looks over the back yard fence to ask: "Haven't you heard of saying No?"
Owen’s parents hadn’t.
My daughter’s fifth grade class has been reading R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, which has sparked a bunch of Right vs. Kind chats at bed time. (Do you lie to be kind? Do you keep your kid from experiencing pain to be kind?) And we’ve come to the conclusion that the thing is, Right is Kind. Helping a kid learn how to behave by Saying No is Right. It is Kind. It is Right. Doing the Right and Kind thing may not make a person popular. But it is the truth. The only thing to do.
Whether it’s about bringing a blanket to school, or being a disrespectful, unkind self-absorbed bully, people need boundaries and guidance, sometimes we all need to be told No. The word No, when used in a consistent and fair way, is a Kind word. It is Right.
My generation (Ye Olde Gen X) is parenting, for the most part, in one really specifically crappy way: Gen X parents have not heard of Saying No. This is not me being old and cranky about Kids These Days and You Brats Get Off My Lawn, it isn’t the kids. Kids are born the same way they’ve always been – it’s the parents. So many Gen X parents refuse to Say No. It’s embarrassing and depressing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this as my kid and I read Wonder together, and as she is being thrashed by the girls at her new ballet school for the crime of…you guessed it. Saying No. The ballet mean girl kingpin was shoving my kid backstage at a rehearsal. My kid said, “Please stop pushing me.”
No one has ever told this shoving kid No. Cue the vengeance.
There are a bunch of moms back stage watching this group of 11 year old girls gang up on one shy new kid, and their response is: "Oh, it's the age....middle school girls can be just awful!" Then their eyes and attention go right back to their iPhones. Facebook is super important, after all.
You know what? That is bullshit. It is unKind, it is not Right, it is lazy. Seriously? That is your excuse, you’re going to shrug and claim crappy behavior is inevitable and dictated by a person’s age? That is the stupid crap people say who have no interest in making kindness and empathetic humanity a high priority on the list of traits to focus on when modeling behavior for children. Not one of the parents even entertained the thought, while watching their daughters be purposefully cruel to another human being, of simply saying, “No. That is not acceptable behavior. No.”
Long story long, all this parental refusal to Say No, all this confusion about Right and Kind is just making me more glad I accidentally wrote a Young Adult book. If so many parents clearly haven’t heard of saying No, at least there are books to deliver the message. Owen and Wonder and Blubber and Jake and Lilly and Chrysanthemum provide a more accurate and simple depiction of unkind behavior: No, it is Not Right, it is Not Kind.