How to get your kids to accept 'No'

For your consideration: a consistency method of parenting that can drastically reduce the number of tantrums, harsh words, and bad feelings.

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  • There is very little more frustrating in life than a child, or a hoard of them, following you around whining and crying as you try to accomplish something. Often our responses are ambiguous: "Not now." Let me think about it." "I don't think so." "Ask me later." The list goes on and on. I know I have been guilty of making these replies on the run without even stopping to make eye contact.

  • Then, I figured out a tried and true method of resolution that resulted in much more peace in our home — if we did it consistently.

  • Stop, look and listen

  • When a question is asked, take a moment and stop what you are doing and give your child your full attention. This may seem like a time-sucker when you have eleven thousand things to get done, but the time and stress it will save you in the long run, not to mention the feeling of importance you place on that child, is priceless and worth the investment.

  • Give your answer

  • With eye contact. Your hands on their shoulders. Straight up. No ambiguity. Yes or No.

  • Allow one appeal

  • At this point, your child will accept your answer or not. If he doesn't, allow him to ask if this is an answer the two of you can discuss. You have just established an important tactic that gives your child a voice on things that might be negotiable. Allowing him this little indulgence actually gives you more validity when you say, "No," a second time.

  • Take a moment to reconsider

  • If you don't feel like this is something negotiable and are resolute, gently tell your child, "No," and remind him that the second "no" is final. If he persists, remove yourself from the potential storm that may be brewing. With a little time, the storms will subside.

  • Make your final decision

  • If you feel that perhaps your "no" is something that warrants further discussion, tell your child, "Yes, we may discuss it." Tell him your thoughts, allow him to present his and then make your final decision.

  • Here's an example of the method played out:

    • "Mom, can I go to Sarah's to do homework?"

    • "No." (Note the glaring lack of child-frustrating ambiguity)

    • "Is this something we can talk about?"

    • "Sure, tell me why you want to do homework at Sarah's."

    • "We're project partners and she has some notes and I have others and it would be so much easier and wouldn't tie up the telephone or computer if I just went over there to work."

    • "All good points. Will you show me your project when you get home?"

    • "Of course."

    • "You may go. Be home at 5:45."

    • "Thanks, mom."

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  • And the alternative ending:

    • "Sure, tell me why you want to do homework at Sarah's."

    • Flimsy explanation

    • "All good points. Unfortunately, the last time you worked at Sarah's you came home late and didn't have anything to show me. So, the answer is no."

    • "OK, I understand. Maybe next time," or, "Fine! Whatever!" Either way, the discussion is over.

  • My husband and I laid out this plan to the children (a blended family with five of his and four of mine) on our weekly family night. It was well explained and questions were answered so that it was no surprise how things would play out in the future.

  • When we put it into practice, there was some adjustment when the final answer was "no." Occasionally, they wanted to continue to badger me. I simply walked away and, if necessary, went to my room as a refuge. It wasn't long before the method began to work consistently. The kids were appreciative for the opportunities presented to discuss a "no" and much more accepting when a discussion led to the final "no."

  • It is an investment in time, and a huge expenditure of energy, to stop what you are doing and hold a pow-wow. But in the end, your children learn that they are worth your time and will show you (and your "no") respect accordingly.

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Becky Lyn is an author and a 35+ year (most of the time) single mom.


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