For most kids the word “no” can be a trigger, and can lead to problematic behaviors, or even a full-blown tantrum. Unfortunately, being told “no” is going to happen. That’s life. How can we best help children to be OK with hearing that word?
It’s good to be prepared for saying “no,” and to practice it in different ways and different situations. It may take time but your child can get used to hearing the word “no.”
10 tips to saying “no” with less negative fall-out.
- Have a game plan. Understand that saying “no” is going to happen. Think ahead and be prepared for situations, such as meal time or snack time, where your child may have to deal with the word.
- Utilize choices. For example: “No you can’t have a candy bar but you can have graham crackers or pretzels.” Providing choices allows the kid to hear “no,” but then realize he or she still has a choice and control in the situation.
- Surprise your child. Say “no” to a middle-of-the-road request but then offer something even better. “No, you can’t play with your action figures this morning, but you can play on the iPad for 20 minutes.” This will help your child begin to pair the word “no” with access to really great things. They will start to understand that hearing “no” isn’t always such a bad thing when they get to do fun things after the fact.
- Start small. Try to say “no” only a couple of times per day. Although we want kids to be able to tolerate the word “no,” we want them to be successful in the beginning when first working on this new skill.
- Understand the environment. Kids are most comfortable at home, and around people they know. Practice saying “no” in the home before working on this new skill out in the community, at a store or in a restaurant.
- Be firm. Don’t be derailed or give in to behavioral outbursts, which will only reinforce the behavior you are trying to avoid.
- Widen the circle. No one wants to be the bad guy, but it is best for your child to hear “no” from different people. Maybe have Grandma or Grandpa practice saying “no.” This way, the child is not just hearing it from the same person over and over again.
- Increase praise and attention. If your kid can accept “no,” and not have a meltdown or tantrum, give them loads of attention! Make it a big deal. Tell them that you love how flexible they are being. This kind of attention will increase the likelihood of them being OK with “no” in the future.
- Role play. You can have some fun with this and try your own hand at accepting “no” with your spouse or an older sibling. Role play having your spouse say “no” to a request such as going for a walk. You can reply, “Oh, OK, I’ll just go and do something else.” Your spouse could then make it a big deal and shower you with praise. You are your child’s best teacher and role model.
- Make it fun. Take the opportunity to be silly with your kid, and make accepting “no” a “challenge” or a “quest.” “We were going to play Monopoly…but I challenge you to a game of hide and seek outside!” This could make accepting “no,” and a change in your schedule, fun.
Kara D Reynolds is a behavior consultant at the WellSpan Philhaven Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.