I remember vividly when John learned the word “no.” It was the kick off to a 2 1/2 year odyssey of epic proportions that didn’t deviate from his newfound independence until he turned about 4 years old. Terrible 2’s? Try Terrible 3’s sandwiched with Terrible 2’s, sprinkled with willfulness and lovingly garnished with stubborn defiance. John has never done anything half way and that time of his life discovering where the boundaries were was no exception (spoiler alert: this doesn’t end until they are adults…buckle up). 😉 So if you are in smack dab right now at the center of a slightly large Bermuda Triangle created by your two/three year old, then allow me to guide you to surviving and thriving through this stage of natural development.
How to respond when your child says “no”
- Try to understand WHY they are saying no: Your child doesn’t want to leave his classroom when you pick him up from school? It makes sense that they want to continue having fun even though you are trying to remember if you have all the ingredients for dinner. Offer a more exciting alternative, like they get to open the mailbox and carry the mail home, or just give them one more minute and enjoy watching them being happy.
- Stay positive: Try to frame your thoughts in a positive light. Try not to say, “We can’t go to the park until you finish your drink.” Turn it around to, “As soon as you finish your lunch, we can walk to the park!”
- When no is not okay: There are times, like walking across the parking lot, that safety is required. If they say “no” to taking your hand, just reply with a short, firm no and take their hand. If you think your child may put up a struggle, say they are tired, ask them as you are taking them out of their car seat what what they need to do when you walk to the store? Prep them in advance to get the behavior you expect.
- Check your vocabulary: How many times a day do YOU say no to your child? Our children mimic us and if that’s what they are hearing a lot of, so will you.
- Avoid Yes or No propositions/Redirect: Instead of asking your child to come to the table for dinner, ask your child if they want to fill their cup with water first or wash their hands first before eating dinner? You still get what you want but it gives them a feeling of control. You can use this same strategy by redirecting when they aren’t complying with your request.
- Learn how to handle your child when they get overstimulated: Remember that sometimes our kids get overstimulated, and when that happens, it’s difficult for them to respond to direction. Take them to their room or your car (if you are away from home) so they can take a break for a few minutes and calm down. Once you see that happening, you can ask if they are ready to follow the rules or do what you need to do. If they aren’t ready, then let them stay where they are for a few more minutes.
- Your child still won’t stop saying no? Ignore them: For older children especially, they need to know you won’t be drawn into battle every time they want something different. Just tell them you aren’t going to discuss it any more and walk away. Make sure you don’t turn around, keep going. They need to know that there are limits and that they can’t get their way by being argumentative.
You need a plan for these times that will come up and stick to it. By following the strageties above, your child will know what your behavior expectations are, how you want them to act in certain situations by teaching them what to do, and where the boundaries are drawn. Children have their own thoughts, feelings and ideas on how they think their life should go, just like we do. The trick is to give and push at the right times so your child has enough slack to learn how to become an adult while easily reeling them in when they go too far. Hey, raising little humans is hard sometimes. As the mom of a now done-with-high-school 18 year old, I can stand back and see what all of those hair-pulling moments resulted in: a young man who is polite and hard working (but still stubborn and willful; this is reality, people). Easy? Rarely. Worth it? Every bit. I mean, hey, he’s edging my lawn right now for Mom cash. So while children screaming in a restaurant still gives me PTSD, on the flip side, I don’t have to cut my yard today. It’s a balance that works for me. 😉 I hope that these ideas work for you, too.