May 22, 2023

Pro Tips: Learning to accept “no”

Pro Tips provided by Claire Spangenthal, MA/SC, NCSP, BCBA, educational assistant director at Summit Academy Enhanced.

Teaching children to accept the word “no” can be a challenging task. However, it’s something that everyone must learn and starting early in life is the best way. Read our tips below on how to approach the word “no” with your children:

1. Teaching the word “no” with care.

Learning to accept “no” is a critical skill for all children. Parents may try to avoid it or use other words instead, but they shouldn’t shy away from using the word “no.”  Children need to learn early on that being told “no” is okay and that when you’re told “no” it actually means “no.” Once your child is able to ask for things and express their needs, parents can start introducing “no.”

Parents can still incorporate a loving, caring aspect to teaching their child this skill. For example, a child may ask for a candy bar at a grocery store checkout, but it’s right before dinner. Parents can say something like, “I love the way you used your words. I can’t give that candy bar to you right now, but we’re going to go home and have dinner, and then we’re going to have dessert.”

2. Using a delayed “no” versus “no, not ever.”

There’s a difference between saying “no, not right now” and saying “no, not ever.” A “no, not ever” situation may be in response to a child’s request for something that won’t be happening soon. For example, they might request to go on a trip somewhere far or ask for something that’s not in the budget at the moment. A parent can respond by saying something like, “No, we can’t do that right now, but we can go play in the backyard instead.” This way they’re saying “no” but also pivoting to a different activity.

A delayed “no” is used when a child requests something, but they can’t have it until a certain time or until they complete certain tasks first. They may ask for ice cream, for example, and a parent might say, “No, you can’t have ice cream until you clean up your toys and wash your hands.” This gives the child something to focus on or tasks to complete to fill in the gap from when a parent told them “no” and when they can actually have what they requested.

3. Provide your child with choices.

Providing choices of activities that a child can do instead of what they requested is important. If a parent tells a child “no” and walks away, the child is left wondering what they should do and will continue to focus on the thing they requested. Children don’t necessarily have the skills to move away from their focus and engage with something else without being directed.

4. Don’t give in.

One of the most important things for parents to remember is to stand your ground. Don’t give in to your child even if they start engaging in challenging behaviors. Validate that you heard their request and provide other options, but do not give in to their request. If there are no other choices at the moment, try to distract and move on from the topic to something else.

Prepping your child for the day’s activities can also help to avoid challenging behaviors. If you’re going to the store, explain to your child that you’re going to the store to get certain items (list them out), then you’ll go to check out, and then you’ll come home where they can play. This creates a visual schedule and prepares them for what will be coming up throughout the day.