When Children Say No – Is Your Child Talking Back?

There will come a day when you walk in your toddlers room and notice the mess; ask them to help put their toys away in a sweet and encouraging voice and be met with the resonate tone, furrowed brow and pouty lips that suddenly, almost violently say ‘NO!’ It is as inevitable as it is that your little bundle of sunshine and joy will grow up. When children say no, especially for the first time; it can be a difficult pill to swallow and one that chokes and gags you as you digest it. The pressing question then becomes what should I do now?

Initially, it is always best to stand your ground. Tell them that they will in fact clean their room and they will do it right now. If you let them get away with it, laugh because you find it cute or become a raving lunatic in their presence you will no doubt be encouraging more of the No thing. Chances are you will hear it fairly vehemently for the remainder of your parenting life so handling it properly early on is pretty important.

There are other ways to think about the whole no thing as well. When children say no, more than likely you are asking them a question in which they feel yes and no are both appropriate answers. For instance, do you want to eat dinner; do you want to take a bath; do you want to go to bed; do you want to brush your teeth; do you want Mommy to clean your ears; do you want to go shopping with me. The list is endless. The important thing to notice is that most of these questions are pretty open ended and are much like someone asking you; do you want to clean the toilet; do you want to go to work; do you want to pay the electric bill. No, No and NO! So before you freak out, you may just want to take some time and tack to rephrase your questions and deliver things in more of an instructional manual sort of tone.

Offering choices is also a good way to solve a no problem. Do you want to clean your room or help with laundry? Do you want to take a bath or brush your teeth first? If no good option exists and you really need them to make the right choice, offer questions like Do you want to eat dinner now or do you want to go to bed a half hour early?

There are a great many parents who have bought into the schools of thought that very young children, school age children and even teenagers should always be encouraged to use their own minds and make them up for themselves. These same parents blame their children’s behavioral issues on them simply partaking in their personal rights to express themselves. Let’s be clear. These are children who never learned or were forced to adhere to the word no because their parents were overly concerned about their child’s feelings. They grow up to become entitled and worthless, unable to accept the responsibilities of life because they have been taught that if they say NO, they won’t have to do something. How well will this work with their math teacher or future boss? Few of those people will care if they hurt their feelings.

So what should you do aside from taking it lightly and rephrasing your questions or demands when children say no? You should realize that until a child reaches school age they are very easily distracted and swayed from their first reaction. When you ask them to clean their room or set the table, or put the gum in the check out aisle down and they react with the dreaded NO; simply redirect them. No in many situations is not a viable option and parents should make that clear very early on. Certainly, some things in life are negotiable- but saying flat out, stubborn NO to mom and dad is not one of those things. A few decades ago kids (probably like you) pretty much did what they were told and moved on with life. They didn’t always like it, but they also had a certain level of respect for elders and authority as well as a very clear cut set of boundaries. They might have tried it once; but not twice. There are ways to ensure that your modern children also understand that there are strict limits and that in the scope of the day no is not something they should be telling adults. Come up with discipline that seems suitable to their disrespect and their level of NO and enforce it. Kids train easier than dogs and they will get the hang of it pretty quick without much effort or harshness on your part.

If you are already in the midst of a no problem in your home take heart because all hope is not lost. Around the age of 2, saying no is a promising sign of developmental progress. It means they are becoming thinking people who have opinions and feelings about everything. Every once in a while it is okay to allow them one ‘no.’ You might want to give them at least one get out of jail free card to help them feel like they are being listened to and respected by you. But be reasonable. Otherwise they will take over and quickly realize that by getting angry and saying no; mom will do anything to get them to quiet and calm down. If they stamp their feet and dig in like a mule; act unaffected by the behavior and reiterate your instructions plainly (without trying to reason with them) until they do what they are told. There will probably be a stand off and a lot of screaming and whining ‘but you must win’. When children say no and you act in control of things, they begin to see that mom and dad mean business; they will use NO much less or at least with much less vigor.

Few children do everything they are told to do, when they are told to do it and how they are told to do it. They might say no, flat out ignore you, tell you that you will do it later, throw a fit and act like a maniac or just scream, yell, cry and holler. Develop thick skin to this kind of behavior and stand your ground. As long as you are not constantly requesting things of your child and bestowing unreasonable and non- age appropriate expectations delivered in a hateful way then quite honestly; your children should be taught and learn to listen to you. The earlier the better.



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