How to say no to children without saying no?
In the “war” between children and parents, the victory always belongs to the children.
Like adults, children have their best days and not-so-good days, when they act differently and not like their usual selves and make many unreasonable requests. , when we find it challenging to deal with our children, we find ourselves uttering the word “no” as our quickest response.
How many times do you think a toddler hears the word “no?” I am almost certain that your answer is much lower than 400. That’s right! According to experts, on average, toddlers hear the word “no” 400 times a day. That’s irritating for parents and destructive for children. Studies have shown that children who hear more positive feedback are more likely to develop better language skills than children who hear the word “no” too much.
If your focus in parenting is to force your children to listen to you, you’ve already lost the battle, and you are set to face many challenges in your parenting journey. Most parents are unaware of the impact that saying “no” has on their children. However, we all have experienced the outcome of saying a direct and strict “no.”
One excuse that we, as parents, justify “no” is that we want to protect our children from hurting themselves or doing something that might have dangerous consequences. But it’s important to understand that an unexplained “no” would leave our child confused, tangled and irritated.
Once they hear their parents using the word “no,” they would want to understand the reasoning behind it and know what to do instead. In a sense, they need to hear the explanation to comprehend the true meaning of the word “no.”
Furthermore, excessive use of the word “no” may lose its impact and meaning; it can be associated with bad behaviour and make your child more curious, which could result in tantrums.
Avoiding a direct “no” encourages children to consider options whenever they face challenges or problems in life. It avoids frustration and stress. Children learn to interpret the world through the people’s actions around them. In other words, they do what they see. By offering alternatives and positive ways of presenting those “no” situations, you are setting them up for a better life in future.
How our children feel and react to different situations is not in our control. Focus on what you can control: yourself and how you act and react.
Setting limits and teaching the child the consequences are becoming the core foundation of modern parenting. But is there no other way to do this than to engage in severe challenges with the child? How is the skill of saying no to the child created? Most of us experience a guilty conscience on certain days and feel sorry and upset for our child, as we seem to have spent all day saying such sentences to the child:
“Don’t do this!”
“Don’t do that!”
“No, no, no!”
If we put ourselves in our children’s shoes, we will understand that if someone had constantly been undermining and correcting us all day long, we would feel hopeless and defeated. For this reason, it may be better to be more obsessed with choosing and using the words we use in our conversations with our children and developing the skill of saying no to them. We can establish restrictions and show the consequences of our child's behaviour by using phrases that have the meaning of the word "no" without pronouncing the word, or other negative sentences, such as “don’t do that!”
So, how to say no without saying the word?
To craft a practical framework for our purpose, in addition to children development experts, I am borrowing from Chris Voss, someone who is not likely to be cited in children development literature.
In his best-selling book, “never split the difference,” Chris Voss, who is a former FBI lead hostage negotiator, applies the tactics and strategies that he had developed as one of the top hostage negotiators in the world to business and everyday life negotiations. The book is not about children, but I think there are principles and techniques that parents can take advantage of.
That’s right! We are getting help from the FBI’s hostage negotiator.
Have the right attitude.
Here is a quote from Chris Voss: “Great negotiation is about great collaboration. It’s about several people faced with different aspects of the same problem. The adversary is not the person across the table; it’s the situation. The person across the table is the counterpart struggling with some aspects of the same problem. You work with them and solve the problem together, and you both are better off.”
Children are determined to win the battle of wills, so if you can use your skill to take energy away from the conflict altogether, there will be no more battles to win or defeat.
It is crucial to understand the reason behind your children’s behaviour. The problem is not your child’s reaction but the reason they react the way they do. So, your job is to work with them, understand the reason and emotions involved, and then resolve the problem.
What is empathy? Empathy is Being aware of the other side’s perspective. It is not compassion, sympathy, or an agreement. It is about understanding how they see things and what they feel.
The following conversation is probably a very familiar daily conversation for many of us:
Mother: "It's time to go to bed."
Toddler: "No! I don't want to go to bed."
Mother: No! You must go to bed.
We all know what the result would be if we continued the conversation down this line. Instead, try leading the conversation by showing empathy once your child demonstrates resistance to what needs to be done.
To show empathy, one must first understand what the other is feeling and then label the emotions.
In most cases, when our child shows resistance, there are underlying emotions or reasons for their behaviour. To better uncover the feelings, ask yourself the following questions:
o Does our child behave this way because he’s seeking out attention?
o Is this a reaction to the changes in his life?
o Is it because he is missing certain people in his life?
o Is our child’s behaviour the result of his fatigue, or has he not been able to drain his energy properly today?
Once you understand what the child is feeling, then label it. Labelling is a verbal observation of emotions. You explicitly say what you think the other side is feeling.
To label, you can use the following framing:
· It seems like...
· It feels like…
· It sounds like…
Say it’s your child’s bedtime, and they get upset and refuse to go to bed when you tell them. You can say: “it feels like you are upset.”
What it does is that it defuses the negative feeling. Note that you are not agreeing or approving your child’s behaviour. Instead, you are simply acknowledging their emotion.
It is important not to say anything after a good label, let that sink in, and wait for their response. It might not be verbal; it could be a change in body language or even silence.
Never start a label with “I.” Don’t say, “What I am hearing is…”. This conveys that you are interested in your perspective, whereas you want to show that you understand your child’s perspective.
Change the mood and energy of the conversation.
Changing the energy of conversation helps shift a child's mindset to the other side. A 1970s study by UCLA suggests that three elements affect conversations: Content, tonality, and body language. What is eye-opening is that tonality is five times more powerful than the effect of spoken words. The effectiveness of body language is eight times of spoken words.
Examine it for yourself; next time you have a conversation with your partner, tell them, “they are so cute!” in three different tonalities and see the reaction.
YOUR TONE OF VOICE MATTERS!
Give them a choice.
Giving our children options will convey the message that they control the situation. It boosts cooperation, increases their self-esteem, and develops a sense of independence in them.
You are at the park with your child, and it’s time to go home. But your child is not ready to leave yet. As we all know, they might never be prepared to leave the fun behind. As you say, “It’s time to go. You can have one last turn on the slide.” Your child starts to cry and tells you that they want to stay longer.
Here’s what I suggest you do rather than simply saying “no” and sticking to your words and repeating the previous sentence.
Get into the same height as them before starting the conversation with them.
“It seems that you are not ready to leave the park yet,” or “It feels like you are upset to leave the park.”
Once they confirm that your observation is correct, they can either use their words, saying, “But, it’s so much fun to be here,” “I am not done playing in the park,” or just stand silently for a few seconds. Pending on their response, you can recognize the need and the emotion behind their behaviour; you then continue the conversation by presenting the options. “We can have a fun competition and run to the bus stop and see who gets there first, or we can walk together and sing our favourite song. Your choice.”
Give them the chance to choose from the options and decide for themselves. But you don’t want to overwhelm them with options, so keep it simple. Two is just suitable for any toddler or preschooler.
Show and tell
“Some children can’t stop what they’re doing, even when you tell them to, because they don’t know what to do instead,” says parent educator Elizabeth Crary, author of “Without Spanking or Spoiling.”
For example, it is prevalent for young children to use their hands harshly when touching other children or adults. Instead of telling them don’t do that, try to show them what to do instead. Ask them to be gentle and guide their hands in a stroking motion, or show them how to kiss so that they can do the same. Young children need to be shown what to do rather than be told. Of course, same as many other things, this must happen in repetitive times to be learnt.
So, is it correct to say that we should never say “No!” to our children?
Of course, it's not.
It is almost impossible never to say no to our child, but it is better to strengthen the skill of saying no as much as possible and use all that we can to avoid negative sentences. It is better to do our best to say no to the child without using the word "no," but sometimes we have to use the word.
As mentioned in this edition, there are better, more effective techniques than always saying a “no” to our children to help them learn discipline and prevent them from doing dangerous, harmful things. Understanding these simple points and strengthening the skill of saying no to the child in ourselves can make considerable differences in the daily lives of all of us.
Remember, while saying “no” to your children is thought to help them practice self-discipline, it is not the most effective way. So how often you use it is very important to see its effect.
How often do you avoid saying “no” to your child in a day?
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