Saying “No” is a daily part of life as a parent. It is such a simple yet weighted word. How you and your child handle it will have a profound effect on your family dynamics and your child’s future self. The word “No” is an opportunity to teach important life lessons, and give your son the tools to navigate his emotions as life becomes increasingly complex for him. While it may seem harmless to let a few “Nos” slip away over a piece of candy or a simple rule, you are setting him up for a harsh reality when he is older and starts getting a taste of rejection in the form of love interests, jobs, and disappointment in general.
If your boy throws a fit at a hard No while he is a child, how will he react in 10 years when presented with a hard No on a date? Are you training him to persist because he knows he will win in the end? Or, to force explanation after explanation without accepting the final answer? Can you see the potential danger in how this word is handled?
If you are teaching your own offspring to challenge your decisions regularly, you are programming them to overlook boundaries in favor of their own benefit, defy rules set in place to protect them, and bully others into comprising to their whims. Allowing this behavior instills a sense of entitlement that will not serve them in the long-run, and breeds a general lack of respect in regards to their world and those they share it with. The attitude can leak into all aspects of their perception and awareness, from environmental to sexual.
People who are conditioned to get what they want without regard to consequences, are also traits of people who grow up to not respect others boundaries or harm others, nature and property. On the less dramatic end of the spectrum they may grow up without the ability to navigate and control their emotions when faced with boundaries, rules or rejection, which can lead to a whole plethora of issues related to addiction, relationships and mental instability. The sweet little angel whose tears soften your “No” and whose incessant questioning causes you to second-guess yourself is going to one day be a full grown adult, and these are the days that matter the most.
How do you nip this in the bud and get your kid to respect limits? Let’s troubleshoot.
Every parent’s situation is unique, but below are 4 common issues and obstacles that contribute to the “No” battle, along with some tips and advice on overcoming these hurdles.
- You crave your child’s approval and/or want to be friends.
Within the realm of parenting there are many styles: Authoritative, Helicoptering, Free-range, ect…, but setting limits is your job first and foremost, especially in the early years. Realistically, if your child is going to be friends with you, it will probably be when they are adults. A friendship should be based on respect, and it is your job to teach it. Only once respect is established can you even think of entertaining the idea of being “buddies” with your child. Think about it, would you want to be friends with someone who questions your every decision, reacts with aggression, or requires you to exhaust yourself with explanations and negotiations every day? That sounds more like a toxic relationship. If your relationship with your kid is toxic, how will that translate in their relationships later in life? And why would you want to be friends with someone like that?
As a role model to your son you can inspire him to be a better person and to understand the value of friendship. Friendship is not something you can bully yourself into or force, it is not an invitation to be your worst self just because you feel safe, and it is not leverage to be able to get what you want. If you want to be friends with your son, first teach him what friendship is. Teach respect, boundaries, and limits.
You can be a limit-setting parent while cultivating a strong sense of friendship within your parent/child relationship. You must practice what you preach. We all have bad days, but treating your kid with respect is imperative. Be friendly and positive, maintain a sense of humor, let things go, actively listen, and keep it real. If you can set limits while planting the seeds of friendship, you can build the foundation for a healthy relationship with your son.
“You should always talk to your kids like you like them. Have a look on your face and a tone that gives them the message that you care about them. I know this can be hard, especially when you’re frustrated and your child has been acting like a pill. Still, it’s very important to be positive when dealing with them as much as you can because they pick up on any negative feelings very quickly and soon internalize or rebel against them aggressively.”
2. You want your child to understand and accept your reasons.
As adults we know that too much chocolate is unhealthy, but unless your kid can break down the science of it he will simply not get it nor does he care. If you are over-explaining every decision, or have made it a habit to negotiate with your kid, you are wasting your time and your breath. Once you’ve given your child a reasonable amount of input, any further explanation defeats the purpose. Stop the discussion and move on. He will learn to move on too. Reduce the stress and time it takes to have a long-winded conversation with a child over an answer that was already settled, and your household will benefit.
In the moment, it can seem like laying down some logic may get you two on the same page, but you are being played a fool. Your child isn’t really attempting to understand your reasoning, he’s trying to find a loophole, or buy some time while he tests your limits. Isn’t it you who is supposed to be setting the limits? Don’t get caught in this trap! While a reasonable amount of explanation and dialogue is good, you don’t owe them anything more.
Say “No” to firmly cue the “end of discussion” and walk away. Don’t respond to any backtalk, even if it’s coated in sugar. Is he behaving bratty and saying mean things to provoke you? Walk away and deal with those words in a bit. Is he being sweet and luring you back to explain further? Don’t do it. Keep walking.
“If you give him the power to turn you back around, he’s going to turn you back around forever.”
The next part to this is the follow-up. When things are good and going smoothly, your child is more receptive to productive conversations. This doesn’t need to be formal or too serious, depending on the severity of the situation of course, but it is vital that you take the time to clear things up when you and your child are calm and attentive. You can say: “When I tell you ‘no,’ I don’t want to talk to you anymore about that. No means no.”
From there, rather than reverting to the conversation about the “Why”, start a conversation about “How” to deal with frustration and disappointment. This is where the magic happens. You have the power to help your child discover creative and healthy outlets for their emotions.
3. Your child gets emotional, intense, or angry.
You’ve set your limits, ended the conversation, and attempted to move on. Now a raging child is raising havoc in your home or in public, and a crucial moment has surfaced. Your son considers the whole situation completely unfair and he is letting you know in a less-than pleasant way. Perhaps he is embarrassing you in public, or screaming throughout the house riling everyone up. You panic, and seek out the quickest and easiest way to diffuse the chaos as soon as possible. You just want to make it stop. Now you are emotional and things are escalating into a shouting match.
You’ve just placed yourself on the same level as he and disrupted the power dynamic. You are fueling the fire and it can quickly spiral out of control. You negate your own authority by yelling. If you can keep the tone of your voice firm but calm, you will have already won half the battle. It may take a whole lot of self-discipline and will to keep that tone down, but if you can achieve it, the process of diffusing the situation will become easier.
“Certainly, the first time you yell, your child might respond the way you want him to—and maybe even the second time. In fact, the first ten times he might respond. But the day is going to come where he just screams back at you. This keeps escalating until he breaks something or kicks the wall. Your child just learns more aggressive ways to respond to you.”
It’s a pivotal moment when your son realizes he can control you through aggression. He becomes empowered, and not in a good way. The moment can quickly transition into a pattern that will haunt him for life. Once he realizes that escalating his behavior will achieve the outcome of his desire, he can easily become one who uses intimidation and violence as a coping mechanism and control tactic.
“If a parent tells me their child won’t take “no” for an answer, my response to them is always, “If you reward that kind of behavior, then your “no” doesn’t really mean “no.” It means “keep trying.”
If your son becomes overstimulated and gets out-of-hand, take him to his room and have them sit and take a break for a few minutes to recover and balance out. Then talk with him simply, calmly and firmly about what the boundaries are while giving him an opportunity to make the right choice. Ask him if he can agree to comply, and if he says yes, allow him the chance to change.
If your son finds it a struggle or challenge to calm down, let him stay in his room and continue to recover. Suggest an outlet depending on his age, but keep in mind an outlet is not a distraction, such as video games. An outlet is a channel for expression and a tool for releasing emotions, such as drawing, physical activity, dancing, music or even puzzles. The intention is help him be present and bring focus to his mind, and not allow his emotions to control him.
What if you are in public when it happens? This is why it is imperative to start early-on in childhood.
“if you give in to temper tantrums from kids who are two and three and four years old, you’re training them to challenge your authority. You’re training them not to give in to you because they know you’ll give in to them. They’ll use the same tactics whenever you challenge them.”
Even if you are in a situation where privacy is not readily available, you must stand by your word and enforce healthy behavior. When you are in the grocery store, you will need to leave your cart and go to the car to get this handled. If you are at a gathering, you will need to take your child aside and deal with it. If you are in the middle of a movie at the theater, or a meal in a restaurant, it will be necessary to interrupt the activity and balance out the situation.
You must be consistent, and if you start this early on, you will nip it in the bud, rather than making a habit of allowing your child to be stress factor in everyday life and special occasions. Sure, it will be a huge letdown those times you have to leave a restaurant or interrupt a fun occasion, but the effect is impactful, as it shows you are true to your word and have zero tolerance for outbursts and bad behavior.
4. It’s too late – your child is older, and you’ve already programmed him to challenge you.
The reality is that the longer you put off enforcing limits, the harder it will be. However it is never too late to start establishing healthy communication and boundaries with your child. In the earlier years, setting structures for kids to live by helps them to develop within the perimeter of what is acceptable in your household and in society. If you feel you have missed the mark in this area and now are reaping the consequences, you must be patient and persistent with yourself and your son. Be clear and honest with yourself about the reality of the situation, and don’t expect transformation in one day, or even one month. Confusion and conflict will occur, but over time you and your son can repair the dynamics of your relationship and reach a level of respect.
“If you’re only starting when he’s 15, remember you have trained your child that you’re a pushover and that you don’t mean what you say. Once you inadvertently train your kids to believe that, it’s very hard to break that training.”
Starting now, come up with a game plan of what you’re going to do. Write it down, talk it over with your partner, and make sure you are on the same page. Lay down the law as to what aspects of your child’s behavior need to change, your strategy for teaching them, and most importantly: your response to their behavior. If you have been a pushover all these years or have involved yourself in shouting matches with your son, you need to take a hard look at yourself and realize that you also need to change. While there are no excuses for bad behavior, your son feeds off of you. You have not only set the example, but you have also nurtured the behavior you are now seeking to change.
Once you are clear and committed to how you will respond to your son from now on, you will feel more empowered about the whole situation. That way even if you feel like the situation is out of your control, you can start by controlling yourself and the rest will follow. He will begin to gain respect and even be influenced by your change, and gradually your household dynamics will improve. Most importantly, you are helping to better prepare him for the life challenges ahead and his relationship with the world around him.
It might be a good idea to sit down with your son and discuss honestly with him how you feel about the status of your circumstance. Let him know that while you may have handled things in a certain way in the past, you are committed to building a new dynamic of respect and communication. Ask him if he would be willing to work together with you, and listen to what he has to say. Even if your son is unresponsive or seems uninterested, this conversation is a powerful catalyst to change.
Level the playing field to not place blame or anger on any side. It opens the door for collaboration, rather than putting him on the defense. It keeps it positive and focused on the potential of the future, rather than the pain of the past. Just remember that after this conversation, you are the parent, and at the end of the day, you who are in charge.
Working on these cycles and negative patterns is the best thing you can do for your son. You are providing him the tools to cope with his emotions, and helping him to practice self-control. You are building resilience to rejection so that he understands he will not always get his way. That is OK. As you work on your own responses and become more self-aware, you will also grow as a parent. If you feel overwhelmed, remember to take it day-by-day. See each battle as an opportunity to influence your son in a positive way. He may not see it now, but your work will pay off.
Thank you for visiting my site. Let’s connect. I’d love to hear your story. Want more? Check out my latest book. Busting the Boys Will Be Boys Myth: A Guide to Raising Conscious and Confident Men in Today’s World
The folks over at Empowering Parents have amazing advice and insight as to how to navigate the more challenging aspects of parenting! https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/no-means-no-how-to-teach-your-child-that-you-mean-business/