Question: What if my child says “No” to me?
SUGGESTIONS: Parents ask me this question often—especially parents of toddlers. When kids say “no”–no matter what their age–it can feel super irritating and make us parent out of our Parent Ego which says: “YOU CAN’T SAY “NO” TO ME!!!”, which only creates an even bigger power struggle and soon our child turns into a “No Monster” and they will use that word over and over and over to irritate us, get a rise out of us, and create a lot of conflict and chaos.
My biggest suggestion is to: Focus on the goal: Ignore the “no” completely. Take away its power. If you ask your child to pick up their toys, take out the trash, or do their homework, etc. and they say “no”, focus on the goal only of getting them to do what you have asked. I know it feels disrespectful when they say “no”, but YOU have power over how much power it has over you. Does that make sense? Otherwise, you’ll be angry about 2 things and dealing with 2 problems–them not doing what you asked them to do AND them saying “no” to you. Let’s just focus on the goal and ignore the “no”.
Here are some other suggestions for you to try and see what will work for you and your child…
For Preschoolers and Grade schoolers…Let’s say you have asked them to clean up and they say “no”…
- Make it a game: See if you can engage your child in a race to see if they can pick up the toys before the timer goes off or before a song is over.
- Offer teamwork and power: “Can you clean up the toys all by yourself or would you like some teamwork? or “Are you old enough to clean them all up by yourself or do you need mommy/daddy to help you?”
- Use When/Then: “When the toys are cleaned up, then it will be time for Family Movie Night (or snack time or going to the park or having a tickle fight or playing electronics, etc.).
For middle schoolers and high schoolers…this age group is a bit trickier with the “no”, but remember that we still want to focus on the goal and not give the “no” any power nor let it create a power struggle.
- Use humor: I heard you say “no”, but I know what you really meant to say is (and then use some silly high-pitched voice): “Sure thing, mom. I’ll get right on that.” Then you say: “Thanks, son!”
- Rewind and Give them Their Lines: “Can you try that again without just saying ‘No’. That doesn’t feel respectful. Can you say: ‘Do you mind if I finish up this TV show and then I’ll put the dishes away?’ That respects you and me. Thank you.'”
- Empathize and Compromise: “I know you’re playing something you’re enjoying and taking out the trash isn’t your favorite thing in the world. How about I’ll set a timer for 5 more minutes so you can finish up and then you can take care of the trash?”
- Offer power: “You don’t have to do your homework right now, but what is your plan for getting it done on time?” Let them tell you their plan and then you can just hold them accountable for their own plan.
When we refuse to give the “no” any power and we focus on using other strategies to get the goal accomplished, not only can we avoid LOTS of power struggles, but more importantly, we can protect our relationship with our child…and destroy the “No Monster” for good!
Here’s to focusing on the goal…not the “no”…
Christine Leeb, Child Development Specialist