Ice cream for breakfast; impromptu gifts; cookies for lunch; no responsibilities ever; cake for dinner…oops…hold on…that’s my wish list, and I’m supposed to be writing about kids.
- Skip the battle. If you know you’re going to a store that has things your child will ask for but you’re not planning to buy them today, offer a preemptive alternative. Different from a “negative no,” which might sound like this, “We’re going to the store now, but you’re not getting anything,” spin it a different way. Try this: “We’re going to the store now. If you see something you like while we’re there, remind me to take a picture of it. We’ll put it on your list.” Helpful hint: Building your child’s trust that something is actually going on his list might not happen overnight. When you do buy something for him at a later date, it helps to verbally add something like, “I remembered that time we went shopping and you put it on your list. That’s how I knew you’d like it.” Reinforce that you’ve paid attention.
- Offer some control. People (big and little) often feel the most defensive when they feel they have no control over a situation. With my child, when it’s time to get out of the pool (or off the swings, or whatever), I know better than to spring the news on her and expect immediate compliance. Fair warning helps everyone involved. That said, for a child who can’t tell time, “We’re leaving in five minutes” would be meaningless, but in some situations, it can be helpful for older kids. If your child wants to keep doing what he’s doing but your answer is no, reduce your child’s resistance by trying this: “It’s almost time to go. You pick a number (or give a range you can manage, especially if your child knows lots of numbers). I’ll count to that number while you finish what you’re doing, and then we’ll go. What number would you like?” For what seemed like forever, the highest number my child knew was 31. Counting to her “biggest number” helped her feel like we were staying for the maximum amount of time in her universe of numbers, and the glimmer in her eyes as I counted proved how she loved having that influence on our day.
- Agree for a future date. Sometimes, there really isn’t a way to accommodate your child’s request when she wants something. That’s fine. Give her peace of mind by telling her when her request (or a version thereof) will happen, instead. Example: she wants chocolate chips on her French toast. Try this: “Chocolate chips really are delicious! Although I’m not putting them on your breakfast this morning, how about if we plan to make that pumpkin chocolate chip bread you like this weekend?” Again, the part you own is making good on the alternative you’ve suggested. Build trust that you’ll follow through. If she wants to go somewhere you can’t go right now, intentionally let her watch you put in on the calendar for a day you can go. There’s a world of difference for a child between hearing you say, “Sure, another time,” which he likely translates as “Maybe never,” and “Yes, let’s put it on the calendar together. Come look with me for our first available day.” Moreover, apply this to little things while you’re building trust in this area. Nothing is too small when it’s important to your child.
- Reframe the “no.” Sometimes, when I’m tired or impatient, I hear myself bark, “No, stop that!” What I fail to teach in those moments, though, is why it’s important for my child to change course. Unless it’s an urgent safety issue, find a positive way to redirect your child. Little and big kids need this. A better option for a little kid might be, for example, “That’s the floor. Let’s find some paper for you to color on, instead.” For a bigger kid, try, “Hmmm, it’s getting close to dinner time, so let’s stay inside now and make a plan to go back out tomorrow.” I hear myself say, “Let’s make a plan…” a lot when the timing or approach my child is using isn’t workable for me. Choose your words wisely.