How To Say NO Without Saying NO
Listening to NO is something kids need to do. But some kids hear something very different when you say NO. How far do you get before your frustration gets the better of you and you start yelling, demanding and threatening? Think instead that your children need to learn cooperation and consideration. They don’t necessarily need to do what you say when you say NO.
When you’re frustrated and have a trillion things to get done, you just want cooperation and can’t take the time to stop and access the situation to see what is needed. You just want to get on with it and would like to be able to expect some help. Your child tells you something she wants, and you’re quick to react with, “No”.
What is it about “NO” you don’t understand? Well, take a second, be your child and let’s see if we can answer that question. When your child hears your NO, here are some possibilities of what she does understand:
- You don’t care about what I want.
- Everything you have to do is way more important than what I want.
- I never get anything I want.
- You’re always so angry when I ask for something.
- You always tell me no even before I have a chance to tell you why.
- It feels like you’re threatening me.
- I’m just a bother to you/troublemaker.
- I’m not important to you.
These are the thoughts — the always and the nevers — of an immature person who does not yet have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex to consider the bigger picture — a child who is in the moment with his own agenda. His developmentally appropriate job is to care about what he wants and not take care of yours. If he thinks this way often enough, his need for your understanding and connection will deepen and he will become more demanding.
We want our children to learn consideration and to cooperate because they want to be helpful. Who doesn’t want that? How you get there is a long journey through the mire of egocentric development that must be understood and acknowledged, frustrating as it is.
Your consideration of your child’s agenda is what will teach your child to be considerate of yours — eventually. The more you dismiss your child’s wants, the more his defenses will interfere with thinking about your wants.
Some children can hear NO a lot more easily than others. Some strong-willed temperaments refuse to be told what to do and will not take NO for an answer (link to harmony/integrity). These children do not need to be changed; they need to be understood. It’s not that they don’t want to cooperate. It’s that they hear something different when you say NO.
Learning a different vocabulary and taking an unconsidered, reactive NO out of your every day vocabulary will go a long way in your child’s ability to hear and cooperate.
Try some of the following:
- That doesn’t work for me…
- Yes, you can as soon as…is done.
- You really wish you could have that anytime you want. I get it. I would too if I were you.
- What do you need in order to do what I’m asking?
- Of course you don’t want to do that. That why you have me to make sure these things get done.
- You really don’t like what I just asked you. Sometimes being the parent is a hard job because I have to say things that you don’t like. (link to PAC)
- I bet you wish you could tell me what to do sometimes. Want to play You’re the parent and I’m the child this afternoon after we all get home?
- Tell me what you think we should do about it.
- I bet you could do what I asked so fast. Want me to count while you do it?
- I know you can do this. I have seen you do really hard things before.
- You want… and I want…. How can we make this work so we both get what we want?
If you’re saying to yourself, this will never work, my child will still be demanding, it probably means she hasn’t heard this from you as a steady diet.
And if you’re saying, I don’t have time for this, what you mean is you don’t have time for understanding and changing your perspective from, My child is being a problem, to my child is having a problem. The time you will save in the long run is immense.
When statements and questions like these become more automatic for you, you will find yourself in a very different relationship with your child.