• Florida Family Living

How to Handle Their “No”

What You Need to Know

There are few words more irksome than hearing your child say “no." Rest assured, your child is very normal. If she asserts herself with a “no,” you can pat yourself on the back. You have not raised a submissive child!


The fascination with “no” stems from the fact that toddlers (and tweens) are starting to realize they are individuals who have a will of their own. This is the early beginning of your child learning to stand up for herself and knowing what she wants. She is learning to set her own boundaries and build the foundation for healthy relationships.


Children who become compliant at a young age often suffer later in life from lack of will and passion. As parents, we need to think very carefully about how we choose to respond to their lack of compliance.




How to Handle Their “No”


Check these first. Is he tired, thirsty, hungry, or getting sick? If yes, meet his physical needs first.


Connect before you make a request. Children need to feel connected. If they don’t, they are more likely not to want to cooperate. Play a quick game of peek-a-boo or chase her around the kitchen island and then make your request.


Ask questions instead of giving directives. When we give our children orders, it creates resistance. Learn to change your commands into questions, i.e., “Put your toys away,” becomes “Where do your toys belong?” This is very simple, but most of my clients report fast immediate results.

Don’t argue. This is a battle that can’t be won. It has no good ending, often with one or both of you in tears.


Respect their “no.” When you can say, “Thank you for telling me.” Wait a few minutes and try again with your request. When a relative tries to give your child an unwanted kiss (or hug) say, “Ellie doesn’t feel like kissing today,” instead of coercing to comply. Respecting her “no” allows her to feel safe to set her boundaries.


Change your irritable thoughts. Switch your negative thoughts to a positive outcome. Change “She is driving me crazy” to “She is going to be a wonderfully assertive woman someday!”


Don’t offer a choice that your child can answer with a no. For example, “Do you want to help set the table,” allows her to say no versus saying, “Please help set the table.”


Give your child lots of opportunities to feel powerful. The more competent they feel, the less they need to be powerful by resisting you. One way to do this is to ask for their help frequently. Youngsters love to help.



Use distraction. Nothing delights and distracts a youngster like a parent being silly. Break out into a song or dance. Then try getting them to do the task again.


Let your child know that you hear him. There is usually an emotion behind the “no,” such as frustration, irritation, or anger. When your child feels heard beyond their “no,” it often dissipates. For example, “I see you are still a little sleepy and grumpy. Let’s try getting dressed after we snuggle for a few minutes.”


Provide a reason for your request. Reasoning with your child at this stage is possible. As long as you keep it short and to the point, your child will be more likely be inclined to cooperate. “The slide is wet and dirty. Let’s swing instead.” Versus, “Get off the slide!”


Teach your child how to say “no” respectfully. An important life skill your child needs to learn is how to say “no” in a non-offensive way. A disrespectful or mean response to your requests can be redirected by giving your child the tools. At a friendly time (children can’t learn at a time of conflict) give your child acceptable ways he can tell you “no.” If you don’t, he may find subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways to say it, i.e. forgetting, dawdling, or doing the job haphazardly.


Avoid using “no” as much as you can. Your child learns from you and wants to be like you. If she is hearing “no” several times a day, she is likely to mimic you.



For more information on alternative ways to say no, go to www.incaf.com and download the FREE handout, “19 Creative Ways to Say “No.”


Kathryn Kvols is the author of the popular book and parenting course, “Redirecting Children’s Behavior.” She is also a parenting coach and speaker. For more of her resources, go to her website: www.incaf.com.


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