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!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. says

    I find it helpful to give them a countdown warning when it’s almost time to go home from a super fun activity or to stop playing something super fun. Eg. “Okay, 5 more minutes of playtime!” And then maybe another one at 1 min. It helps prepare them so they don’t get abruptly taken away from what they were playing. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge