Just Say No?


This is the second post in our “Proactive Parenting” series.

Imagine the following scenario…

“Mom, I want a cookie.”

“No, not now, it is almost time for dinner.”

Your child begins to cry or scream and you are annoyed. But before you chose a tool from your arsenal of behavior supports, look at this moment from a different angle. Could “no” be a trigger word for your child?

Now imagine this scenario….

“Mom, I want a cookie.”

This time you say, “Let me think about that for a minute.”

Your child looks at you and waits. You have just bought yourself enough time to decide how the next five minutes will play out. You also just avoided a meltdown. And we’re all about that, right?

The word “no” is a powerful trigger word for many children. Children often react by whining, crying, screaming, or worse. For many children it is part of a behavior pattern:

  • Mom or Dad says “no”  (often without thinking about why)
  • The child reacts negatively
  • A power struggle begins (and rarely ends well)

As the parent, you feel like you can’t give in because of the message that sends. Your child can’t give in either. So instead of feeding the power struggle remove yourself from it by responding differently and avoiding their trigger word. Be creative in the ways you avoid the word “no,” and practice saying exactly what you mean.

“Yes, you can have a cookie after dinner.” or

“Yes, I will put this cookie on a plate and you can have it after dinner.” or

“Okay, but remember you get to have one cookie. You can eat it now or after dinner.”

Become aware of other trigger words. Sometimes it might be as simple as using your child’s name at the beginning of a request. “Jason, it’s time to turn off the computer.” Some children are conditioned to thinking that their name at the beginning of a sentence signals a request, which in many cases requires a refusal on their part (remember that pattern). So try rephrasing, “In five minutes it will be time to turn off the computer.”

The language you use with your child can work for or against you. So take some time to find your child’s trigger words. Avoiding them can be a powerful proactive parenting strategy.

Read the other posts in this series:  Avoid Anger Mountain

Author: Bonnie

Bonnie is passionate about supporting the whole family and has worked in this field as an educator, parent support group facilitator and parent coach for over 30 years. Read her full bio here.

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