TalkBack To Vicki Jardine

A TalkBack on Parenting Issues

Say NO and MEAN IT! July 16, 2009

Does this child look HAPPY to you?

Does this child look HAPPY to you?


Don’t be afraid to say NO to your child!

Children actually want you to say ‘no’ some of the time.  It makes them very nervous if the answer is always ‘yes’.

I know it is hard to believe.  Especially when you see how hard they are willing to work to have you change your mind when you do say NO.

They can sulk and throw tantrums and try over and over again, but if you can stick to your answer of NO despite what behaviours they dish up, you will be very surprised to discover that your child, who may have seemed completely out of control in the past, is actually very reasonable and calm and will accept your answers without too much opposition in the future.

The problem is that too often parents cannot stand the tantrum and come to believe that ‘giving in’ is the fastest, most effective solution.  But this is not true.

Step back from the situation and think about this from your child’s point of view.  They may be happier to accept NO for an answer than you think they are.  Perhaps you have not really put that to the test yet.

Let’s look at a scenario:

  • Your child wants something.
  • They let you know they want it.
  • You say NO
  • Your child tries again to get what he/she wants.
  • You again say NO.
  • Your child tries again…and maybe escalates the request to a demand.
  • You again say NO.
  • Then your child wants to know why not.
  • You answer or you don’t answer (doesn’t matter which)
  • Your child then tries to argue the point (whether you made one or not)

What happens next of course depends on you.  It depends largely on what you routinely do in response to your child’s repeated nagging, asking or demanding.

On the surface of it, it seems like the child simply wants to do or have something in particular.  It may even begin to feel like a battle of the wills (and sometimes it is exactly that, but not always!).

More often than not, your child actually understands that when they ask for something, the answer could be NO.  In fact, they will most likely have prepared a list of reasons that they should be allowed to have or do whatever it is that they want (this is of course in the case of an older child).  Young children only know that they want it.  Older children understand the concept of debate, argument and persistence.

Why is it that older children understand those things?

Well, it is because you, the parents taught those things to your child when they were young.

Persistence.  You taught your child to persist, when you changed a NO to a YES simply on the basis of the argument not being ‘worth the trouble’.  Your child learned that if they keep crying, screaming or simply asking over and over again, that you will eventually give in and say yes.  You taught them that by repeatedly doing so.  Later, when they are older they know you will eventually give in, so they are practically running the show a lot of the time.

But what would have happened if you had not allowed your child to see that their persistence paid off in that way?  Imagine if you let your NO be NO and your YES be YES.

It is never too late to bring in a new understanding into the way you run your family.

If you allow your child to have what they want most of the time, then they will expect to get what they want by the same means elsewhere in their life, not only at home with you. 

So what’s wrong with that?

Well it is in fact highly unfair to let a child have what they want most of the time and to let them think that if they nag or throw a tantrum there is an excellent chance they will get what they want. 

This is not something that will happen for them everywhere they go.  It will not happen at school.  It will most likely not happen when they are playing with friends and with the parents of other children.

It would be great at this point if parents could keep in mind what is actually going on when a child escalates their behaviours to get what they want.

Children want to know that you love them more than anything else in the world.  They are not so interested in having what they want as knowing that you care about them.

  • What if you turned every request into an opportunity to show love to your child?
  • What if you looked at requests from your child differently?
  • What if you understood that saying no with love can actually make your child feel happy and secure?
  • What if you took a minute to explain why you are saying no, or that you would like to say yes, but you know it would not be good for your child?
  • What if you refused to enter into debate over a NO?
  • What if you expressed your understanding for why your child wants something and on top of that expressed that while you understand their reason, it does not change your answer?
  • What if you let your child see that you are in fact in control?

How do you think all these things would affect your child?

Well, I can tell you.  If you could do those things, CONSISTENTLY, here’s what you can expect to happen:

  • Your child will feel loved and secure.
  • They will relax in the knowledge that someone who knows more than them is ‘steering the boat’.  They will come to understand that arguing is not the way to turn a situation around. 
  • They will see what it looks like to manage other people rather than react to them. 
  • They will see that wanting something doesn’t mean you will get it. 
  • They will see that your role includes making decisions for them and their role is to live with those decisions.
  • They will learn that throwing a tantrum does not result in a change of decision (and can possibly have the opposite effect).
  • They will learn that love does not mean saying YES all the time.

So next time your child asks you can they have something, don’t be afraid to say NO.  But if you do say NO….stick to it no matter what.

If your child is not used this being the ‘norm’ in your home, then take a few minutes when there is no issue or request being denied and explain your role as the parent so your child can see that possibly something has changed.

It doesn’t matter if your children are strong-willed.  They will give in, in the interest of self-preservation.  If you have been giving your child most of what they want for a very long time, then it is only fair to expect them to ‘hold out’ for a very long time to get what they want.  Remember, you taught them that if they persist, they will get it.  So don’t hold it against them if they do persist.

Just understand that if you don’t stop this pattern of behaviour now, it is going to cost your child dearly as time goes by.  Also, it will mean you have less control over your own life probably for the rest of your life.  Do you really want to be a slave to your child’s whims for the rest of your life? 

How many people in their 50’s and 60’s have you seen still trying to ‘give’ their adult kids what they want one way or another?  When that happens it is easy to see that the parents have been mistaken.  And it is riduculous actually.

It is not as ridiculous when you see that happening with a 3 year old.  However, it really is as damaging to all involved.

So don’t be afraid to say NO and STICK TO IT!  It will save not only time, but ultimately could save your child from having unrealistic expectations of other people for the rest of their lives.

Leave a comment and let people know what you think about saying NO and sticking to it. 

Let us know about your child’s tantrums or if you have any questions you would like answered.

Talkback to me!  I’m interested in what you have to say.

Vicki Jardine


2 Responses to “Say NO and MEAN IT!”

  1. Melynda Heienickle Says:

    Dear Vicki,
    I love your website, and have found many of your articles helpful and encouraging. This one about no is interesting. What about those of us that are persistent with no, though? My 3 1/2 year old consistently tries to debate and beg her way out of a no even though my husband and I are consistently, consistent. Once we give a yes or no response, we do not change our minds. How do we effectively parent that? I worry ignoring her can be just as damaging as giving in.

    The other issue we are currently working with is that when given a no, our daughter will decide she is going to do what she wants anyway, and will even be sneaky about it. I am would love to get some feedback, or even be navigated to an article you have already written, on how to manage this undesirable behavior and empower her to become a trustworthy person.

    Thanks to all who take the time out to help a mom that needs some guidance!

    • vickijardine Says:

      Thank you for your kind words Melynda. Raising a child is such a multi-faceted process. What really rings through your comment is how much you and your husband have the ‘big picture’ for your little girl. You are thinking about her ‘character’ and your goals for the development of certain qualities that you know will enhance her life. You know, this is the first step. The other thing that stands out to me is that you actually assess the outcomes of your methods with your daughter, what her responses are and then try to find out how to ‘parent that’. Your daughter is very blessed to have parents that think this way.

      As your daughter reaches school age and on into elementary school and so on, she will have to conform to the authority of others. She will face many situations in which the answer is ‘no’ and she will have to accept that if she ignores a No and does something anyway, there will most certainly be ‘consequences’. This is true for many situation in life. So you are quite right to be addressing this tendancy right now.

      Let’s look at the world through your daughter’s eyes. She knows what she wants. She will ask for it over and over. despite receiving a ‘no’ answer, so she has some determination. These two qualities are excellent qualities to possess by the way. All real leaders have these two qualities.

      She has tenacity and will even resort to being sneaky. This means she doesn’t give up when she runs into obstacles. So while tenacity is good, your daughter is only three and a half and doesn’t know how to make decisions that are good for her. She doesn’t know this. She doesn’t know that your ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ are all for her well-being. She looks at the world as though it is just a matter of ‘getting what you want’.

      Even explaining this to a child so young, well it’s not a waste of time entirely as it is all part of setting the atmosphere, climate and communication that you will want to develop within your home, however, don’t expect her maturity level to really comprehend adult reasons for doing things.

      In fact, you really do not want to set in motion a process whereby you, the adults, have to negotiate every decision you make, with a young child.

      Another opinion that your child most certainly holds is that she cannot be happy without having the particular thing she has decided she wants right now. This is an important point to consider. So many adults are victims of this and they go through life wanting something, getting it, and then wanting something else. Their happiness is short-lived and they are always in a state of wanting something to have or to happen, so they can be happy. This is definitely not a quality to encourage within your daughter.

      Here is the view of the world (or of course, you decide the view that you want her to have, this is just a suggestion/example) which you may like to help your daughter develop.

      My mom and dad love me. They decide what I can and cannot do. I know I am wasting my time to argue with them. I know that once they say no, they mean it. I know that if I do it anyway, that there will be consequences. I know I can be happy even when I don’t have the exact thing I want. I know this because when I don’t get what I want, I can easily decide to want something that I can have. I feel secure knowing that my parents are in charge, even though I sometimes don’t understand their reasons for things.

      Naturally your daughter will not consciously think these things. She will not put these words to her feelings, without your help.

      Here’s some ideas of ways to help your daughter adjust her view of how things actually work.
      – Give your daughter a choice to make. Let her know that she has the power to decide her own actions and you have the power to set the consequences for her decisions. Only ever give her the choice between two things, as she is so young. One choice will be the one she wants to have or do ….. but attached to this choice is a definite consequence that you know she will not want. This forces her to think, to feel her own destiny is in her own hands. Then the other choice is one that you know she will be happy with (if she gives it a try), but more importantly it carries with it a happy consequence that you know she will want to have or do. So now she is subject to your decision, but she has personal power to decide her fate. I know she is only three and a half, but here is an example of what I mean: Your daughter wants to go and play and you want her to eat her dinner. You can say, ‘You have a choice. You can have two more bites and then go and play….or… can decide not to have two more bites and stay at the table. You decide. Two bites and play…..or no bites and sit here? Repeat the choices. Keep it simple. She will eventually see that the only way to get something that she wants is to choose the action that leads to it.
      – Praise her when she makes a ‘happy choice’. Tell her how proud you are of her ‘great decision’. Let her see that you admire her powers of deduction. Use words like ‘smart’, ‘sensible’, ‘good choice’ and most importantly start talking about ‘consequences of your decisions’. For example, ‘Wow, that was a great decision and now, because you made such a smart choice, you get to have the happy consequence. You can go and play now’.
      – Refer to the ‘happy consequence’ and the ‘sad consequence’ regularly. Help her see that good choices lead to happy consequences and poor choices lead to sad consequences.
      – If she sneaks and does something anyway, then let there be a consequence. Let her see that her decisions have the power to make her happy or sad. You are not subject to her decisions. Help her make the connection in her mind that when she ignores you and does something anyway, that in actual fact, it does not lead to happiness. She only does it because she knows what she wants….or thinks she knows what she wants. Help her to see that while she may want to have or do something very badly, and even though she will enjoy having it or doing it, she may not enjoy the consequence of making the decision to do it when you have said no.

      It takes time to set processes in motion. Be patient and know that even if you make progress 10% of the time, the difference to your child’s life can last a lifetime.

      I hope these ideas have helped. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I love helping parents to help their children.
      Warmest Wishes

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