IN THE modern, mollycoddled world of parenting, the word "no" has gone the way of phrases such as "Do that again, and I'll smack you" and "Don't make me hurt the wooden spoon with your backside."
But parenting expert Janet Cater says not saying no is a big no-no.
"This idea that it's not okay to say no to your child seems to have snuck in with the no-smacking thing,'' Mrs Cater says.
"It's this new trend that says we have to negotiate with children and give them choices.
"Smacking's not okay, but we seem to have thrown out `no' as well - which is wrong, because children still need to be told no.
"It's a long way from a hiding to nothing, from the bad old days when people would hit kids to this idea now that you don't do anything at all and just let them run wild.
"We need the pendulum to swing back the other way.''
Mrs Cater, who has been working with children for more than 40 years, says she is dismayed when she hears about parents who are trying to find circuitous ways to avoid the simple, single-syllable negative.
"It's true that it's always better to tell children what you want rather than what you don't want: `Please come down the stairs' rather than 'No, don't go up the stairs','' she says.
"But when you've already explained 13,000 times why it's wrong to hit people, you get to the point where you just have to say no.
"A lot of parents let their children set the boundaries and do what they want. The theory is that if you say no to them all the time, they'll just start saying no back - and that's true to an extent; you can overdo it.
"But children need boundaries, and if they don't get them they will act out and misbehave.''
According to recent research by the Australian Council for Educational Research, "increasing numbers of young children exhibit aggressive, disruptive, hostile and inconsiderate behaviours''.
Mrs Cater is running a series of parenting workshops titled If I've Told You Once ... Better Ways To Parent.
She says addressing problems in early childhood is essential for parents who are keen to avoid having their children end up in brat camps for wild teenagers.
"As I say in my workshops, if you can't control your three-year-old, you've got Buckley's of controlling your 15-year-old,'' Mrs Cater says.
Among the families she has been working with are the Larsens, of Manly.
Sue and Andrew Larsen have two children: Hugh, aged four, and Ingrid, two.
Sue Larsen says she can't imagine parenting without the word "no'' in her arsenal.
"I absolutely believe in saying no,'' she says. "But it's the way the child reacts when you say no that leaves you thinking: 'Where do I go from here?'
"I've put the boundaries up, and the child is still not responding. You get the tears and the tantrums, and it's about how you cope with that.
"That's where Janet's been so helpful, putting strategies in place and knowing how the child's brain is mapped so you can disrupt certain patterns.
"If they're crying about wanting to talk on the phone while I'm on it, you can activate a different part of their brains by talking about colour, and they're distracted by that.''
Ian Dalton, executive director of the Australian Parents Council, says he is aware of the just- don't-say-no trend.
"Once you start making rules around this kind of language, it gets a bit nonsensical,'' he says.
"We end up in a situation where we have paralysis by overanalysis, because there are just too many experts out there trying to explain the technical aspects of parenting.
"In an ideal world, people might speak in particular ways, but we would all end up sounding like robots.
"If we don't say no to our children, they're eventually going to get into situations where someone will say no to them - and what are they going to do then?''
Mr Dalton says the council's research has shown that many very good parents feel they aren't doing a good job because they haven't kept up with the latest child-rearing fads.
"Parents should be allowed to follow their instincts and to live their lives in a positive way - where every action isn't subject to severe scrutiny,'' he says.
Vest Say's: Never once did I strike my children, any minor corporal punishment was dealt out by my loving wife to our five sons, a sound smack with a wet hand on a bare bum gained their attention more often than not, and it certainly has created more good than harm. Our family has had its internal feuds occasionally but has survived generally as a whole without crimminal intent. Our sons have never been unemployed or on the dole, and despite the constant canings at the schools I attended, it has been a lesson learned that needless brutality and canings are regressive and build dissention.
Parenting skills should be mandatory and taught to all parents, and of course the role of the child to their parents too.
Pie in the sky and wishful thinking, shove it in the too hard basket it will never happen.
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