1. Explain your no
Kids are willing to listen, but they hate arbitrary restrictions or prohibitions. Which is why one of the best ways to get kids to listen is to explain yourself whenever you do tell them no. And if you can’t explain yourself in a way that sounds reasonable, perhaps you need to reconsider the prohibition in question.
2. Try to say no less often
As stated earlier, the average American child hears the word “no” or “don’t” over 148,000 times during their childhood, compared to only a handful of “yes” statements. The problem is that the more you use the word, the more kids are going to tune you out. Therefore you should try to limit the number of times you tell them “no,” and look for ways to say yes as often as possible, even if this simply means restructuring your response to allow some other variation of what they are asking for: “I don’t think it’s a good time for that, but what you can do is …”
3. Check your reflexes
Do you respond reflexively with a “no” to just about everything your child asks? If so, this needs to change. Follow our guidelines in the first section of this book about how to become a less reactive parent, and make sure you are giving a pause to think when your children come to you about something.
4. Stand firm
Once you do dig into your position, you cannot bend to a child’s pleas or manipulation. Children learn they don’t have to accept “no” for an answer if going to extremes will grant their wishes and get you to say yes. If you do this too often, it sets up a cycle of variable reinforcement, meaning that children are going to play you like a casino slot machine: Keep pressing the button until it pays out. This doesn’t mean you have to be inflexible and can’t ever change your mind. It just means that you don’t give in as a result of nagging.
How to say no
Don’t lose your cool. Getting emotionally reactive with them turns it into a game, which is going to ensure you end up having to do it all that much more. This is especially true when it comes to toddlers who are testing limits. The key is to calmly but assertively reinforce the prohibition in question.
Ignore repeated pleas. If a child continues hounding you after you’ve firmly stated your position, this is a good time to work on your ignoring and withdrawal skills.
Sometimes something so simple as changing the way you tell your kids “no” can dramatically change the way they respond. So try using other phrases to tell children no. Here are some suggestions to try:
- I’m not willing to let you…
- I don’t think it’s a good idea
- Not this time/Not right now
- I can’t have you doing that in this house
- This is not something we can do
- Nope, I can’t let you do that.