top of page

“No” Wrapped in “Yes”: Limiting Behavior; Allowing Feelings.

Patty Wipfler



The boy was unhappy. His Mummy had gone downstairs for a moment, leaving him and his sisters in the arms of a good friend. He could see her through the window, and she was gone all of three minutes, but he was upset. When she returned, he greeted her, still unhappy. Soon, he cried for the pillow his sister had until she gave it to him. He stopped crying. Thirty seconds later, he wanted another pillow she had found instead. He cried. They pulled the pillow back and forth while he squealed. He won. He stopped crying. It took less than a minute for him to screech again because she touched the two pillows he had snatched from her. He was a tinder keg of feelings, and his fuse was being lit and extinguished, lit and extinguished. He couldn’t play. He had tumbled into a well of unhappiness, and couldn’t find an exit.


We said “No.” We kept him from grabbing another pillow. He went into full cry. We offered no pillows, and no escape from our attention and the small corral we made for him with our arms. We offered only “No,” and Staylistening time.


He kicked the floor. He threw himself back and writhed. He sweated as he wailed. He looked at his Mummy, who was sitting calmly, offering eye contact and words of caring. Every now and then, he met my gaze. But mostly, he shut his eyes and gave himself over to the passions of the moment. Safely cradled, he gave us a full illustration of how awful it was that he couldn’t have a pillow, and then, that he couldn’t climb all the way into his mother’s arms. She held his hands, and his feet were in her lap. I kept my arms around him as he sat in front of her, and the issue that started it all, “I want my Mummy,” came clear. He wanted to climb into her lap and stop crying. I gently kept him seated, or writhing, right next to her. He was in close contact with her, but we kept saying “No” to the things he was hoping would stop his panic, stop his intense feelings of need.


“No” is a real gift at a time like this. The parent says “No” in plain language, kindness attached. No to trying to buy peace and quiet with pillows, or a toy, or food, or that blankie or pacifier that always stops the crying.


The parent does “Yes” in the nonverbal language of love. Yes, I offer you my love. Yes, I will listen to your whole, long, passionate feeling. Yes you may be as wildly irrational as you need to be while you clear the way for your mind to operate peacefully again. Yes, come and be in my arms, or if that makes you silent but still unhappy, then sit right next to me where you can have both me and your feelings. Yes, I guarantee safe passage through this emotional storm. Yes, I know you will come out of this in a better frame of mind. Yes, you are my smart and healthy child.


“No, son, your sister has that pillow.”


“Yes, I am here.”


“No, you can’t climb into my lap right now. You are right here in front of me. It’s safe.”


“Yes, I’ll hold your hands.”


“No, you can’t climb into my lap right now. You are right here in front of me. It’s safe.”


“Yes, I’ll hold your hands.”


“No. No chips right now.”


“Yes, I know you want them.”


“No, I will pick you up in a little while, but not this minute.”“


"Yes, you are safe here. I am watching over you.”“No, I won’t let you grab another pillow.”


"No, we’ll get a snack later. No chips right now.”


His Mummy said, “No” to him climbing all the way into her lap, and he cried hard for a long time. Eventually, he lay quietly in my arms, and peeked at me through one eye again and again. I checked to see whether he was really finished crying about missing his Mummy. I asked him if we could we move away a bit from her. He nodded, “Yes.” I scooted us about a quarter inch farther away. He cried for another minute, then peeked at me again.”


“Can we move a little farther away from your Mummy now?”




Another scoot, this time, an inch. Another short cry.


“Can we move again?”




This time, I moved us a foot farther, and he sat there, calmly gazing.


“How about again?”




I moved us halfway across the carpet, and he was fine.


“Want to play now?”




He began to play, found another reason to cry within thirty seconds, and we listened again, for a much shorter time.


After that, there were many giggles, many cuddling games. He had become emotionally sturdy. His sisters were wrestling with him. He was OK. The three of them played together, jumping and laughing and falling and bouncing and bumping into each other. All was well. “No” and his mother’s warm, nonverbal “Yes” and his vigorous emotional scrubbing had cleared the deck for him, so life could be fun and interesting again.


The clear verbal, “No” opens the door to big feelings. The warm nonverbal, “Yes, I’m here” starts the healing process. The child is distraught. The parent indicates that all is actually safe. The child feels need. The parent says, “I’ll give you me. I offer me and my caring.” The child says, “That’s not good enough,” and cries until that feeling of upset has faded. Then, satisfaction is possible. The parent is plenty good enough. You’ll need to guide your child through a big cry and see this remarkable transformation for yourself, before you can fully understand how useful “No” can be, and how listening to your child’s tears can bring laughter and closeness to the emotional tenor of the day. Your presence has power. You need not fear “No.” Simply add, “Yes,” and listen.
































bottom of page