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Communicating with Children: How to Tell Your Kids No

Updated on January 15, 2012

Think before telling your children no

The things we say to our children need to be clear and easily understood. As parents, when our children ask for things, we create problems when we get in the habit of responding to them in ways that are expedient, by simply saying no without thinking about it. Kids quickly learn they can manipulate the parent who does not always mean what they say. For example, a parent who automatically says no when a child is asking for something (simply because the parent does not want to be bothered at the time)  will often have to stubbornly stick with their unfair no or change their mind after reflecting further on the child’s request.. Feeling guilty, the parent will often later concede and give the child what he or she was asking for in the first place. The request may have been a reasonable one to start with, but parents who say no just to get their children to leave them alone are really not communicating effectively. In this case the power of no usually starts to mean pester mom or dad until they change their mind.

Following through: Stop sending mixed messages

Parents also sometimes communicate poorly by overreacting to our kids behavior or by making threats of consequences that we later don’t want to follow through on. This makes our jobs as parents even harder. Either we will need to follow through and levy a consequence we really don’t believe in or we will have to backtrack and therefore lose credibility and respect as parents. This situation again teaches our kids that our words are really not clear and that if they whine or badger enough we will cave in and not follow through on consequences. Kids in this situation sometimes become what has been termed mother deaf (although it could just as easily be father deaf). They begin to tune out their parents thinking their words have little meaning and that their parents won’t follow through on the things they say. Can we blame them? Probably not, because are words and actions are not consistent and we are sending our children mixed messages.

Setting Boundaries

Further, some parents seem to be afraid to say no to their kids. It’s as if teaching our children there limits in life and setting boundaries will somehow harm them. As parents we cannot be afraid to let our children have feelings of disappointment or unhappiness. This is how they learn coping skills. We need to provide them with opportunities to learn that adults are there to help set boundaries for them. It also helps to prepare them for life outside the home. Overindulgence results in children having difficulty in a variety of social situations (such as when they first attend school) because they have an unreasonable sense of their own power in the world. Children who have their whims immediately indulged begin to struggle when they enter a world that does not cater to them the way their parents do. The egocentric child who tries to badger a teacher for what they want or ignores the teacher’s instructions will struggle with feelings of insecurity as the techniques that worked with their parents are no longer effective.

As parents it is our responsibility to provide structure for our children. They need to learn that instant gratification is not always a realistic goal in the real world. As parents we are there to provide direction and stability. We can’t do that if we are unable to say no every time little Johnny has to have that sugar-filled cereal he saw on television. Kids need to know that we are more powerful in the world than they are because if they start to believe that they have as much power as we do they will feel incredibly insecure. Instinctively our children know that their parents should know more about the world than them and that parents are there to be leaders. Sure it can be hard to say no when those puppy dog eyes are looking up at you but if you don’t do your job you will be doing your child a greater disservice. The world is a pretty miserable place for demanding little tyrants who always want things their way. And we need to be aware that little tyrants grow up to be big tyrants.

Being aware of the automatic response

A simple habit parents can get into is to stop and think before responding to a child’s request. Giving an automatic response is usually what causes us problems in the first place. If you really are very busy, then tell your child that and let them know they will have to wait for your answer. One simple way to keep from giving an automatic response or even overreacting is to count to five before reacting. Take a deep breath, count to five, and then think about your answer. If you are not sure, sometimes kids need to here you say maybe and that you will think about it. This is much better than an automatic no that you may backtrack on later. Remember we don’t want our children to get in the habit of hounding and badgering us to change our minds. Be clear with the words you choose. Say no only when you really mean it!

Children and feelings

Remember it is OK for your children to have feelings of disappointment or even sadness, just as it is OK for them to experience joy and happiness. Part of parenthood is learning to tolerate and accept these feelings in our children. In fact, children need to experience these feelings so that they can learn to cope in the real world. No one is exempt from having disappointments in life. We do not help our children when we are overprotective and don’t allow them to experience disappointments.

As parents, we can help our kids by clearly setting boundaries. However, when we do set boundaries we can also help our children learn to cope by using empathy when they struggle with hearing no . It’s OK to acknowledge that it is hard when we don’t always get everything we want but that this is just a normal part of life that we all learn to manage. Your children are more resilient than you realize. But as parents we need to do our best to say what we mean and mean what we say. Our kids will feel more secure living in a predictable home with clear boundaries. They will learn to have a realistic idea of their influence on the world as children and this will help them make the adjustment to the world outside the home.


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      Eunique 2 years ago

      Hey Jorge,Twitter can be a great source of teeratgd traffic for you blog if you just treat your followers like they are real people. It's basically the same concept with your blog and all activities you engage in as far as building relationships with people.Thanks for sharing! Do you have any suggestions for using social media outlets like Facebook, Google +1, etc.? It seems pretty straight forward, but for someone who has done no more than create and manage a personal account, it seems intimidating to start off.Thanks,~Jeremy