No Means No: How to Teach Your Child That You Mean Business
Have you fallen into the habit of over-explaining and over-negotiating with your kids? If so, it's likely that every time your child wants to challenge your authority, decision, or rule, you keep talking to him in order to get him to understand why you've made the rule in the first place. And often as your child gets older, you'll find yourself compromising some more and changing the rules a little more. Understand that what you're really doing is training your child not to accept the rules. Don't forget, if you tell your child "No, you can't do that now," and he keeps bugging you-and then you end up giving in and letting him do it-you've just trained him not to listen to you.
Let's look at the reverse. If you wanted to train your child how to not accept no for an answer, how would you do it? First, when you said "no," you'd encourage your child to keep challenging your authority, the consequences they've been given, or the responsibilities they have. You would also keep explaining your reasons to your child over and over. Then at some point, you'd give in and reward him with a bit (or all) of what he's asking for. So you can see that many parents are training their children to challenge them without even knowing it.
So what should you do when you set limits and your child gets angry? I think it's important to define what setting limits means: in my opinion, it could mean anything from establishing a curfew, to saying the TV goes off at eight o'clock. In effect, your child experiences those limits as being told "no". Some kids get angry when they're told no, and they manage that anger by demanding an explanation from their parents. They might say, "It's not fair," and start to act up-they take it out on you.
Things can often escalate into a shouting match. If you're screaming at your child (and by the way I understand how easily that can happen) as far as he's concerned, you're on the same level as he is. You negate your own authority by yelling. 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. In my opinion, getting into a shouting match usually doesn't work, because your child just learns more aggressive ways to respond to you.
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."
Always remember these three roles of parenting: the Teaching Role, the Coaching Role and the Limit Setting Role. The Limit Setting Role is an important part of your parenting style. Parents will often tell me they don't like to set limits; these are the same parents who tell me they want to be friends with their kids. I understand that, and I'm not judging them. But I also think that that's a misconception of what the parent-child relationship should be and can be in the early years-and even on into the teen years. My son didn't need friends. He needed a parent to say, "No, you can't stay out after ten o'clock on Friday night unless I know where you're going to be." Personally, I think the parent-child relationship is lifelong and complex. If your child is going to be friends with you, that probably won't happen until they're adults.
By the way, even though I don't advocate being your child's friend, I think you should be friendly with your kids at all times. That's that "positive regard" I often mention. And what that means is that 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, very quickly and soon internalize them--or rebel against them aggressively.
Parents have to be clear and honest with themselves about the reality of the situation if they have nurtured this "never take no for an answer" problem in their kids. If your child is pushing back when you say no, understand that up until now, you've watered and fed that behavior, and it grew. So to expect this behavior to change without any conflict is unrealistic. I believe you need to set limits and stick to them, while remembering that your child is not going to turn around their behavior in one day. If you're only starting when he's 15, remember that you've 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.
These are hard patterns to turn around, but parents can do it. You have to come up with a game plan. That game plan should include what you're going to do, how you want your child to act in any given situation, how to teach them to do it, how to respond to them if they get so overwhelmed they can't do it, and how to set limits on that behavior. In my opinion, these are some of the basics of sound parenting.
Realize that this fight might take you six months or six years. But unless your child has some severe behavioral disorder, eventually most kids will turn around and start responding -that's all there is to it.
by James Lehman, MSW