Gail Joan Cohen
Our child asks a question, “Can I…” and before he even finishes, we say, “NO!” Sometimes saying “NO” is automatic or perhaps a habit. We do not even think about it. Our reason for saying “no” may not be for a true or important rule. Maybe it just seems easier. We don’t really want to listen, we are tired and overwhelmed. Then we are apt to change our minds when the whining, crying or tantrums start. And we think, “Just go away and leave me alone”. “Okay, you can have it.”
Sound familiar? What we are teaching is if mommy or daddy say “No” just whine or cry or scream loud enough and you can have anything you want. It is especially effective when our children act and pretend they are really upset. Some parents are more easily trained than others.
It gets worse and worse. At age five, crying, whining and tantrums are annoying. At age fifteen it is serious. “Can I go out with Joe?” “No.” Perhaps the child will pout or stop eating or go out anyway. This is because the word, “no” has no meaning or power behind it.
One suggestion would be to try this dialog instead; when you hear, “I want…” stop and think about it. Could you possibly say, “Yes”? Could you say, “maybe” or “let me think about it”, or “tell me more about that.” Sometimes a discussion of what is being asked will allow the child to see that the action is inappropriate. Or, it may give you a chance to think about it and make a more informed decision. Ask questions and let your child speak about what she wants. Be sure the child speaks clearly and does not whine. Tell the whining child that when she is ready to speak to you clearly, you will listen.
In addition, A small child that hears the word, “no” too often, will tend to use that word herself. Children will parrot back to you what you say and do. This is another reason to try a conditional “yes”, “maybe” or “let’s think about that” instead of saying “no”.
By saving the word “no” for times when it is absolutely necessary to say “no” and by not changing your mind when the child protests, your child will learn that “no” means “no” and that crying and whining will not make a difference. Children will then learn the meaning of the word. If a child is told “no” and does the behavior in question anyway, then the appropriate consequence (punishment) must be initiated.
One child, at 16, wanted to take the car to Atlantic City, sixty miles away. We had a discussion about it. We acknowledged that he was an excellent driver. He would probably be fine driving down. We talked about what he would do there. Would he be tired when it came time to drive home? Did he have the experience needed to tackle the drive home? He decided for himself that it was too much for him to handle right now and he decided not to go.
Another child, at age 3, would go into a full tantrum every time he heard, “no”. So we learned to give a conditional “yes”. When he would ask for a cookie before dinner. We would say, “Yes, you may have a cookie. Put it in your pocket until after dinner. Then you may eat it”. He got his cookie and it did not spoil his dinner. We saved the “no” for times when it was really important.
When we are children and our brains are immature, we make up things to explain our world. When we ask for a cookie and are told, “No!” what we probably make up is that we want a cookie and mother did not hear what we said. So we say it louder. Still thinking we were not heard; we say it louder and louder. If we think we are still not heard, we become frustrated, probably cry or have a tantrum and end up being punished. Why? What did we do wrong? Did your child ever say to you after being punished, “What did I do?” Many times children do not understand what they did wrong and feel they are being punished unjustly. This would be a good time to listen. Obviously, we are both seeing and hearing things differently. If a child is punished for what he feels is an unjust reason, it will not correct the unwanted behavior (as seen by the parent) it will just make the child feel resentful.
The next time your child asks for something he/she cannot have, try this dialog instead of the “no” answer. Repeat the question in a way that the child knows that you have heard and understood the request. Talk about how the child feels. Validate his/her need to have the desired object. State your reasons for not allowing the request. Perhaps the request could be allowed at a later time.
Picture this example. You are in a store with your four-year-old daughter. She asks for a toy. You have no extra money today to buy a toy so she cannot have the toy. The dialog may go something like this. “That is a very nice toy. I can see why you would like to have it. I would really like to buy that for you, but I do not have enough money to buy that today.” If the child feels sad, that is okay and you may want to talk about how she feels.
If you go into a store with a child and you know she will be tempted, tell her ahead of time that we cannot buy anything not on our list today, because we do not have the money, time, etc. Or, you may tell her that she can pick out only one thing, so choose carefully. If children know ahead of time what to expect, it lessens their frustrations.
Perhaps you and your child are both tired and hungry. It has been a long day. You are in a store. He/she wants something. You are too tired for a dialog today. It may be better to just say, “Yes”. You will both feel better.
If this is not possible, then this is one of those times when you must say, “No” and hope that you have taught well. Children need to know that the word, “no” means “no”. It is not time for crying and temper tantrums. Use “no” when absolutely necessary and stick to your word. Learning to respect the word “no” is one of the most important lessons a child must learn. This one ability will help make living with children much less stressful and lots more fun.
Small children will always push the limits. They want to see how much they can do. This is a normal part of maturing. They always want to do more, have more, and be more. What a wonderful quality! It is up to us to guide them and help them learn to make good decisions. We want children to learn to make decisions. The more experience we give them in making decisions at a young age the easier it will be for them to make decisions as adults. Many adults still have difficulty making decisions.
Taking two or three appropriate outfits out of the closet for your two year old and letting her pick one will give her control and teach her to make decisions. It will avoid the hassle of trying to dress her in what you want her to wear if that is not what she wants to wear. Offer a choice of brushing his teeth first or taking a bath first. Perhaps a choice of a video or a story at bedtime will help in getting a child to bed.