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Dealing with "No!"

As parents we hear the word "no" an awful lot.  How are we supposed to deal with it?  Nobody ever teaches us what to do.  Some parents never give it any thought.  Others claim that they are in charge and engage in exhausting power struggles.  Some just give in and hope they don't create spoiled brats.  There has to be some balance right?

Intention: The first thing you should always do is figure out "why" they are saying no.  Do they want to play longer? Are they scared of what you want them to do?  Are they practicing their new favorite word?  Are they experimenting on you to see what happens like the mad scientist they are?

Each of these should lead to different responses.  Knowing which it is will help you to craft the best possible response.  It will also help you to develop your own empathy. 

Listening: Sometimes children really need to be heard.  They spend their lives not having much say in what they do, or what happens to them.  Let them know that you heard what they said by reflecting back what you understand.  "It sounds like you would rather play with trucks than take a bath, is that right?".  I have seen children comply with requests while talking about their feelings, it was enough to simply be heard.  Even if this does not change their behavior it will build rapport.  Rapport is like a bank account, the more we put in the more we can ask of them.  You may even get information that leads to another brilliant idea!

Bargaining: You are not in control, don't pretend you are.  Children are gifted to us to remind us that control is an illusion.  Once you understand that, it is easier to accept the need to bargain.  Sometimes you can simply offer choices to give them a sense of control.  Sometimes you need to help them understand why you want something.  You have already practiced listening, so let them practice listening while you explain why something is important to you.  "I know you really want to finish this episode, and I want to be sure we arrive at my sister's house when we said that we would.  I like to be a person of my word, and I don't want them waiting around for us.  I am frustrated because I don't see how we can do both".  This type of transparency can lead to a deeper conversation that may lead to a good bargain.  Remember that they have wants too.  You may understand why your want is more critical, but they don't. 

Assertiveness: Remember that assertiveness is not a bad thing.  A child who is assertive with you today is more likely to stand up to their peers, a bully, or a potential abuser.  We want our children to be autonomous and assertive, we just don't like it when we are on the receiving end.  Its ok to tell them that too!  "I am so proud of your ability to stand up for yourself, you may need that one day, but I am worried you are using it on me when I don't deserve it.  Have I done something wrong, or asked you to do something inappropriate?" This can lead to a great conversation about tone, respect, and how to disagree appropriately.  I worked with one child that drove his teachers crazy.  He had mastered how to respectfully say no or disagree and it messed with their normal discipline techniques because he didn't "deserve" punishment because he was not disrespectful.  He grew into an amazing negotiator.  Once they master respectfully disagreeing or refusing, be sure to let them "win" when you can.  This fosters autonomy and self esteem within them, and humility within ourselves. 

I hope you found this helpful.  Good luck, and know that you are already killing it as a parent!

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