10 ways to help your child take “no” for an answer

take no for answer

Mummy, I want bread.

Mummy, I want some OJ.

Mummy, can I have some yoghurt?

Mummy, can we play for 10 more minutes? (And this is after they’ve already extended for 10 minutes.)

Mummy, this, mummy, that… By the time you’re at request no.235 for the day, the word “no” is already ringing in your head. But wait, hold yourself back, breathe, and read this post first. Here are some tips on how to help your child accept “no” without throwing a tantrum.

1. Don’t use “no” upfront.

Usually when you start with the NO, all they hear is the NO, and then the bawling begins and no amount of logic or reasoning will help.

Instead, try stating the reason or the context first. For instance, “We are in a crowded place, and it’s dangerous for you to play running games here. So I need you to stop now, and we can continue playing later.” (Did I use the word “no” in that at all? No!)

2. Focus on the positive.

For example, “I can’t give you what you want right now, BUT after your nap, we can eat some cookies together! How does that sound?” Or try phrasing it in the positive. Instead of no, no, no, or don’t, don’t, don’t all the time, try positively-worded instructions like be gentle, be kind, be courteous, be friendly, be helpful. You just might be surprised!

3. Rely on routines or established schedules.

For example, “It’s lunch-time now, but you can go to the playground in the evening, which is when we usually go.”

4. Reach an agreement beforehand.

If it’s bedtime and your child tends to drag it (Which kid doesn’t really?), agree on the number of books you will read at bedtime before it’s time to go to bed. Then if your child still protests, remind him of the agreement and the importance of keeping his word. If your child tends to lose it when it’s time to go home after a nice outing, reach an agreement on the time that you’ll be spending at the activity before heading home. That way, you minimise the chance of having a you-against-me battle when going home; just follow the agreed schedule.

5. Practise empathy and acknowledge his feelings.

Acknowledge his feelings, say “I know you’d really like to stay on and play because it’s so super fun here.” OR “I can see you’re upset because you can’t have those strawberries right now, and I know you love yummy strawberries. When I’ve finished the chores, we’ll go to the supermarket together and grab the biggest punnet okay?” Follow on with hug and kisses.

6. Use your body language.

When you have to say no to your child’s request, don’t shout it from across the room where you’re busy doing the dishes. Especially when your child has taken the pains to come to you, and ask – you know that it means something to him. You’ve got to be physically close to your child, even kneeling so that you’re at his eye level. This will help him to be more receptive to the rejection, and be more willing to accept the reason / logic behind it.

7. Be consistent.

All the tips here will work a lot harder for you, if you’ve worked hard at enforcing clear consistent rules. No eating after brushing teeth. (If you really have to eat, then you’ve got to brush again.) No snatching things from each other, otherwise the toy goes straight into the storeroom. No calling each other names. Consistency is key, when helping a child differentiate what’s right from what’s wrong.

8. Call upon a super-hero.

JJ’s favourite super-heroes are spiderman and batman. Occasionally they come to our rescue when we get stuck in a battle of wills. “JJ, spiderman wouldn’t throw a tantrum because he doesn’t get a banana, you know? He’s too busy fighting the bad guys!” It usually works to distract him, or at least to release the tension in the room. (Sometimes…I can almost see him stop and think about what his fav hero would do.)

9. Sometimes they just need a reminder.

Especially if it’s something that you’ve already told your child multiple times and she already knows what not to do. For example, no eating after brushing your teeth. Instead of scolding them (“Don’t be silly, NO EATING after you’ve brushed your teeth.”) You can just remind them, “But sweetie, you’ve brushed your teeth, haven’t you?” Then wait.

They will usually get it pretty quickly, as long as the rule has been enforced consistently.

10. Say “yes” often.

Make it a point to say yes often, especially when it’s something that you don’t actually have a strong case for turning down. You know, the extra two minutes at the playground, or that occasional ice-cream for dessert. You don’t want your child to remember you as the boring EVERYTHING-ALSO-NO-mom.

There are of course certain situations when we have to use a direct and loud “No.” For instance, if your child starts to run across the street, you’d be yelling “No!” while simultaneously grabbing him off the road. But for most day-to-day situations, there are gentler ways to get them over the bumps.

If you’ve found this post helpful, do share it with your friends!

For more ideas on how to deal with tantrums and difficult behaviour, do check out our “Raising a Resilient Child” workshop in October!

How to handle sibling rivalry and fights

I had a good talk with the kids this week about fighting and sharing. (For the record, I am still getting used to my role as mediator in family fights.)

When it comes to sibling fights, first there is usually the question of ownership. Then there is the question of who got the toy first. Then, as Vera puts it, “but he always get his way. I never get mine” — the issue of fairness.

I looked at Vera when she spoke those words, and it was a picture of a disgruntled little girl who’s been trying to be “good” and “the big sister,” but who inadvertently felt trampled upon at the end of the day. Her need to feel loved and heard had not been met. So it’s no wonder that she couldn’t feel the joy of relinquishing her rights in order to create peace in the home.

If we dig deeper, beyond the “who owns it”, beyond the “who came first”, the heart of the matter is actually the intangible stuff, stuff such as love, selflessness and patience.

These virtues are at stake here.

Why don’t I want to share MY toy? Because I want it and I want it now. I come first. Me. Me. Me.

Why can’t I wait to take my turn? Because I want my way. NOW.

I realise it’s a lot harder to focus on the intangible things, and so easy to play judge and decide who’s right because “he’s younger, he doesn’t know” or “you’re the big sister so you should give in.” But as in all family squabbles, it’s important not to take sides. The truth is it takes two hands to clap, and two selfish hearts to fight.

I also realise that little brother needs to learn that not everything bends his way just because he’s small (and loud). And he needs to learn how to wait.

Patience – the art of waiting and coping with your emotions so that you don’t blow up.

Selflessness – the art of moving over so that you give some room in your heart for others.

Things that even us adults struggle with, so what more young children?

We held a family discussion and drew some boundaries on how to share, and how to wait for your turn.

This is helpful as it sets out some boundaries for the kids to follow, some tips on what is helpful to say, and what’s not. For instance, ignoring the person’a request for the toy isn’t helpful. Saying “go away” or “I came first” isn’t helpful. “Can you give me 5 minutes? I would like to finish this song.” works better.

Of course, this will need some repeating, and heaps and heaps of practice in the months and years to come.

But perhaps more importantly (as a good friend reminded me one morning) is help them see the why.

Why should we bother with sharing? Why is it important not to fight? Why work hard at keeping the peace?

Sharing means less tears.
Sharing means more joy all around.
Sharing means we love more, hurt less.
Sharing means a peaceful home.
It also means that we are becoming the boy / girl that God wants us to be. And this is probably the most important reason of all.

Once they are able to see that we’re on their side, and that we’re working towards the same goal, it will help to motivate them to keep trying.

How do you manage sibling rivalry at home? Any tips to share? 


The love / discipline sandwich – Lessons from The Five Love Languages of Children

I learnt something important after re-reading The Five Love Languages of Children (affiliate link) over the weekend.

On the subject of discipline, the author emphasises the importance of contextualising discipline in love. That is, when the child is receiving correction and consequences of his behaviour, he needs to know he is first of all loved by his parents, and also that this discipline /correction is part of that love.

That is, “We love you, that’s why we need to correct you.”

One useful method that Chapman advocates is to sandwich the discipline with love, using your child’s main love language.

So for instance for Vera, quality time and physical affection are important to her, so before I mete out a discipline or consequence, I can give her a hug or hold her hand. Then after the discipline, spend a few minutes with her instead of rushing off. Or I could actually sit her on my lap throughout the whole time. This way, she knows that I am not withholding my love from her, even when I need to address the wrong she’s done.

5 love languages of children

Another tip I learnt from the book is to refrain from using a form of discipline that is directly related to your child’s main love language. So if words of affirmation is important to your child, avoid using harsh words on her. As Chapman states, “Critical words can be painful to any child, but to this child, they will be emotionally devastating.” And if quality time is his thing, don’t discipline by removing that quality time you were scheduled to spend with him.

Now does this mean that if your child’s primary love language is touch, you should avoid spanking? I think for the most part, the answer is yes. And if you do need to use such a form of discipline, try your best to be measured in the spanking, for instance, setting a limit to the number of spanks that matches the level of misbehaviour. And when the discipline has been meted out, remember to hold your child close and reassure him or her of your love.

Reading the chapter turned on a light bulb for me. I’ve been rather stretched of late and I haven’t realised how curt and harsh I can be when disciplining the kids. I’ve been task-oriented, moving the kids through a long list of to-dos, and feeling frustrated when they don’t comply promptly. I’ve (conveniently) forgotten the love part of discipline, and am feeling a little bummed for allowing stress to steal our joy away.

But I guess it’s never too late to start on a clean slate. And I’m glad to have re-read the book just at this point in time when I needed a reminder. I hope you find this helpful too.

This is Little Lessons #19. Little Lessons linky runs on the blog every Thursday. Do grab our badge and link up your little parenting lessons / learning activities below!

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The calm-down chair

We’ve recently moved from using the cane to another item less likely to induce an anxiety attack – a comfy kiddy chair.

We felt the caning was getting us nowhere although it was effective in deterring tantrums – occasionally. More often though, it was making us feel angry, abusive, and overall horrible on the inside. While we do the debrief (why we caned you/what you did wrong) part, the hug and make up part, and praying and asking for forgiveness part, it still didn’t seem to be getting us nearer to sanity (or me to mama-haven). JJ was still having trouble managing the big boy emotions wreaking havoc in his little toddler mind.

Then one day the big idea sat on me. Like a chicken on an egg. And then it hatched. (I mean the grand plan, not the egg.) So the little guy has trouble managing his emotions. He gets upset over little crazy unexpected things that happen (mostly normal daily things like trying to get up his high chair and his precious smelly bolster and blankie drops) and he goes bazookas.

In essence his little perfect world caves in on him and we desperately try to get him back from crazy to normal by…? Waving the cane at him and hitting his bottom?

Thinking back, I think we were more crazy (than him) to do that.

He needs help to manage his emotions. Yes, it’s common knowledge – human emotions do go haywire at times. Sometimes I get mad and upset at the hubby too – and thankfully he doesn’t try to spank my behind.

So… enter this cute little orange kiddy chair that we bought some years ago. It’s been drawn on, and drooled upon, but no matter, it’s still usable and comfy.

We now call it the calm down chair. We get JJ to sit on it when he’s out of control and stay by him until he calms down. That means no raging, no yelling and no loud crying – leftover sobs are fine though since those take a bit of time to stop completely.

Every time he calms down quickly (well anything less than 5 minutes is quick enough), we acknowledge and affirm him, reinforce the fact that he is capable of calming down and regaining control over his emotions and anger.

We try not to focus on the chair as some kind of magical tool (although deep down I secretly think it is), and focus on him being able to grow his ability to regulate himself – this thing called emotional management.

It’s been some two to three months now of using the calm-down chair, and as much as it’s served us well, I find he has less need for it these days. I also acknowledge (and fervently give thanks) that we are starting to see the light at the end of the temper tunnel as JJ approaches his three-year-old milestone. Sure he still gets upset sometimes. But he’s demonstrating to us more and more than he can pull himself back, provided we stay calm and stay close to him.

Ahh, my little JJ…You’ve come a long way.

Do you have a raging toddler in your house too? What’s your favourite tantrum deterrent or calming down tool for your child?

a quote about tantrums

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The terrible twos

Dear JJ,

You just turned two. You’re also in the thick of…

The Terrible Twos.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s a phrase (and a phase) that strikes fear even in the most courageous of parents.

We have stopped asking you anything, because to you right now, everything is a “NO” or “DO-WANT.”

Even if you really mean yes.

You’re like a walking time-bomb. One moment, you can be happily prancing around, the next, tear-and-scream-fest.

Everything can be disagreeable to you, even the way we pack your toys, place your towel on the bathroom rack, down to who’s able to wear your shoes or read you a bedtime story.

What makes it slightly more challenging is that you love to pick a fight and ruffle your sister’s feathers.

AND we’ve also discovered that your tantrums can get quite physical (though thankfully most of your punches and kicks land in mid-air and not on my face).

Sigh, you’re all but wearing mummy and daddy out.

But there is a silver lining…This IS just another phase. And as with all phases, this too shall pass. (Or so we console ourselves.) If you’re anything like your sis, we think we should see the light by the end of the year.

I know there is a reason behind all this. That you are breaking away from us, learning independence, and forging your own identity as a unique little person through this process.

You’ve now discovered the beauty of your own mind. Your own will. Your own voice.

I know we need to support you in this, that we need to be patient, keep our cool, negotiate with you so you attain a measured level of decision-making, compromise, etc etc. But you need to realise that sometimes your desires are downright silly. (Such as wanting to run down a slope that leads to a road full of cars zooming by. Or wanting to swallow playdoh.)

While shaping your identity is important, protecting your life is more so. And that’s what we will do, even if it results in a meltdown.

All these said and done, you’re still our cheeky, adorable little boy. And when you’re happy, you shine like the stars in our universe.

We are counting the days till you turn three.

Till then, we just have to hang onto our seats, and do deep breathing exercises.

Love, mummee

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