Saying No to your kids: The art of negotiation

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Fun fact: A toddler hears the word no more than 400 times a day. Wow! If someone told you “no” more than 400 times a day, would you not feel frustrated? How would you react? What if your world was so limited that you can’t even go to the bathroom without permission?! Introducing the world of the toddler! Mind you, I am not suggesting they have the same freedom as we do, but that most of the time, most parents respond to toddlers by saying no. And they say toddlers say “no”!

                We have to guide our toddlers. And yes, more often than not have to say “no”. But there are ways where we can get them to behave in a certain way without the dreaded word. Research has shown that kids who get exposed to the word “no” so often end up having language problems, and may end up with self-esteem issues and self-doubt. Further, when you say “no” so many times, it loses its importance and significance. Keep no as a powerful word and tool, and let them know that when “no” is uttered, it is serious. So, how do you get toddlers to listen to you without confrontation? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Explain your actions: Look, just because they are 2 or 3 or 4 does not mean you ignore them and just impose your will. Children love explanations and the more you explain and teach and engage them, the more responsive they will be and the higher the chance they will listen to you. Take it from yourself. If someone says no to you, you may feel challenged with an urge and instinct not to listen. However, if someone appreciates your input but carefully explains the reason behind their refusal, especially your boss, you feel more appreciated and acknowledged. And even though you may disagree with them, it is much easier for you to accept another person’s will being imposed.
  2. Agree with the child, sort of. If a child asks for TV or IPAD before dinner, tell them that you will consider it for after dinner. Things like “how about after dinner we watch a bit of TV?” Then you give them 5 minutes and you have satisfied them and avoided another “no” situation.
  3. Give them alternatives and allow them to choose. By doing so you are giving your child a sense of responsibility, you make them feel a part of the decision process which would lead to them honoring your word and theirs much more. Again, think about yourself in similar situations. How much more likely are you to carry out an order if you chose it and had a hand in it? This also build confidence and analytical abilities allowing the children to search for solutions and combat obstacles.
  4. Show them and teach them an alternative. Supposing you have a pet and your child starts hitting the pet. You say “no” but the child does not know what else to do with the pet so they keep hitting the pet thinking this is a way of communication. Instead, try to show the child how to pet the animal and stroke it nicely, and by doing so, you have given him or her another option to manifest their feelings and have taken their mind off the hitting, and introduced gentle affection. Now the child has a choice that he or she can resort to, and use in other situations.
  5. Say “no” when you really need to, and give it a special connotation. Reserve “no” for needed situations, and attach to it a special tone of voice or look or behavior that the child will learn to identify as a warning signal. If you keep saying no in different tones it loses its meaning and the child does not know which “no” is serious and which one is not. So all “no’s” are fair game to be ignored. But if you preserve it and attach that special tone to it, it will stop your child dead in his or her tracks knowing there is trouble if he or she do not follow your command!

Saying “no” is a necessary evil, especially when the child is endangering him or herself as well as others. There is an art to saying it. That art involves proper timing and usage. It is a weapon you have to use adequately. Use it too often and it loses its power and efficacy. Use it right, and you will find it an extremely powerful tool for helping to raise healthy, confident and strong children.