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"No" is Not the Problem


Coco (18mo) recently discovered the power of “No” and he has been using it to his advantage a lot lately! He will even try a sassy “nope” . Knowing how to say "No" is a good thing! It is a sign that he is becoming assertive, takes control, and is learning to make choices for himself- skills that are important to carry with you into adulthood.

“No” in itself is not the problem. However, children don’t always know what’s best for them, so it’s up to ME to be equipped with responses when I anticipate a No. If a NO is an unwanted behavior, prevention is usually a more effective way, rather than applying consequences. There are so many ways to build compliance! Here are just some of the methods that I’ve used, specifically when I used to work as a behavior therapist:

  • Phrase your demand as a statement; by turning it into a question you are naturally offering him a choice ex. Can you clean up the toys?❌ ex. Clean up the toys, please. ✅

  • Offer a forced choice. It is called forced because the child has a choice within limits (set by you, the parent). Both choices have to be satisfactory for you. Let’s say it’s time to go home and say goodbye to Timmy. Ex. Would you like 3 or 5 more minutes to play with Timmy?✅ Most likely your child will pick one and will be more compliant afterwards because instead of controlling the situation by saying No, he felt in control by choosing to play for 5min.

  • Modify environment: sometimes if you’re about to give the child an undesirable task, it might help to change things up beforehand to make it less aversive. Ex. Child doesn’t like washing his hands. You change the environment by offering him bubblegum scented soap, while singing his favorite song, and perhaps throwing in his favorite toy to wash as well.✅

  • Provide many opportunities for compliant behavior (things that you know he will do) before you tell your child to do something. If the child fights going to bed and tries to stall, this would be another great method. Ex. Have him turn on his favorite night light; have him read his favorite story; praise him for putting his pajamas on faster than a cheetah!✅ Since there’s a high chance he will comply with these fun demands, he will be more likely to go to bed more compliant.

There are so many other ways of increasing compliance - changing the words you use when presenting a demand, offering your child many appropriate opportunities to say No, preparing the child for the upcoming demand so that he can have plenty of time to anticipate it, etc. If, surprisingly, all these attempts fail and the result is a strong-headed child that keeps saying No to you, then it’s time to follow through with some sort of punishment(consequence). But that’s a topic for another day.

The most important thing to remember is that this is parenting and it’s our job to put a little effort into teaching certain behaviors. Parents are teachers. The next time your child matter-of-factly tells you No, pause and self-reflect - have you done everything to set him up for success in learning this new behavior of compliance? Have you been consistent with consequences or do you sometimes give in, sending your child a mixed message?

As parents, we should have a plan of action and be intentional with our words and demands. We need to be mentally two steps ahead of our children and be prepared for different scenarios. With that said, we are in the thick of it, working on getting Coco to learn other responses besides No and if it's any comfort, it’s certainly not as smooth of a road as I described above 😁


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