accept no for an answerKids do say “no” a lot. They also need to learn to hear it and accept no for an answer. Children start attempting to set their own limits as soon as they hear what the word no means. At times, they may have trouble accepting limits from others, especially their parents. All of us will hear a lot of no’s during our lives. It is important to be able to accept no for an answer to avoid chronic problems.

The Meaning of No

As previously discussed, children say no as a way to express their desires. When children learn to accept no for an answer, they are learning to accept others’ desires. This is actually a rather difficult process. Many of us adults have problems with this. We don’t accept no for an answer very well either. Hearing the word, no, tells us someone else’s desires are different than ours. They disagree with us about what is the best thing for the moment.

Since saying no means we have conflicting desires, the simple solution is to get our desires to match. Problem solved! Not quite! Have you ever tried to get a 2 year-old to want the same thing you want for her? Good luck with that!

A Typical Strategy

Face it, children want what they want, and they want it now! “Wait until later” has no meaning for a toddler. (It doesn’t have any meaning for some adult either, by the way.) We certainly need to teach our children to delay gratification. However, young children have little concept of time. “Later,” means never.

Since the “wait until another time” thing didn’t work, we focus our attention on the child’s desires. We try to reason with the child. We attempt to get our little boy to accept no for an answer because it is the best thing for him. We want him to come around to our way of thinking. The tantrum ensues, frustrating both of you.

There is another way…

dayspring counseling accept no for an answerTeach Children to Accept No for an Answer

Remember, a “No” from either parent or child is nothing more than expressing desires that don’t match up. The child certainly does not get to make all of the decisions. You get to decide. However, there is a way to help the child accept no for an answer while allowing the child to have their own desires intact. It is important for children to learn to and be allowed to say no. Here are some ways to help them accept no, hopefully without a fight!

  1. Offer an alternative. Your child says, “I want ice cream.” Respond with, “You can’t have ice cream right now, but you can have some Goldfish.”
  2. Assess the reaction. If the child is agreeable, you’re finished. If not, you have some work to do.
  3. Ignore problem behavior that isn’t harmful. Avoid the trap of trying to get the child to understand why she shouldn’t be screaming and crying. If you get into this, you are actually giving the child hope for changing your mind. The child just took control of the situation.
  4. If behaviors that are potentially harmful begin, intervene as appropriate.
  5. When there is a negative reaction, don’t offer or allow either of the items. By reacting this way, the child gave up his right to choose. Use time out or other appropriate means of discipline. Don’t try to change the child’s mind. It is okay for them to want something or not want another thing. Their reaction to being told no is the problem.
  6. Practice often.

It is important to vary the things you say no to. Children will not accept no for an answer the first time. Or the second, or the third… However, over time, you can teach your child there are alternatives to her desires and it is necessary to conform to the desires of her parents sometimes.

Especially for defiant children, it is helpful to practice these techniques at times when the child is asking for something appropriate. For example, your son wants to wear his favorite blue shirt. There is no reason he can’t. It’s appropriate. However, to teach your son to accept no for an answer, you might offer a slightly less-favored alternative. “How about you wear this red one today?” Doing this over time gives your child an opportunity to learn to compromise and understand the desires of others.

Be consistent. Read that again. Be consistent! A lack of consistency will make the process of your child learning to accept no for an answer extremely difficult.


What are some things that have helped you to get rid of the tantrums that can be involved when telling children no? We would love to hear from you!