Kids Say No…A Lot
No might be the second word children learn. We teach them mommy and daddy first because that’s what we want them to say. No usually comes in right behind those. As frustrating as it may be to hear, learning why kids say no and why it is a good thing may help relieve some of your frustration.
Some of our typical adult privileges include not eating things we don’t like, not going places we don’t want, not hugging people when we don’t feel like it, and many other things we can say “no” to. Kids say “no” for many of the same reasons we do as adults. If you’re wondering why kids say no, take a look at your own reasons for saying no. It will probably give you some answers.
If you ask me if I would like to have some asparagus, my answer is, “No, thank you.” There’s nothing you can do to it to make me like it. I just don’t. I like most other green vegetables. That one, I do not – at all. When kids say no, they are, first and foremost, expressing their desires. They are verbalizing what they want. We can get caught up into all kinds of labels that attempt explain why kids say no. Defiance, disobedience, power struggles, meanness, being difficult, strong-willed, etc., etc. At the end of the day, kids say no as a means of expressing their desires.
Kids may be expressing a desire for something else to eat, like a popsicle or lollipop, instead of Brussel sprouts. They may also be expressing a desire for freedom like not wanting to be held. They may be expressing a desire for power by not wanting to do something others want them to do. Remember, every “no” from a child is simply an expression of a desire.
Why Kids Saying No is a Good Thing
As frustrating as it can be, kids learning to say no is actually a very good thing. Kids need to learn to express their desires. They need to learn they can have an impact on the world. Kids need to learn they don’t have to simply accept what others want them to do or what others want them to give or accept. When “defiance” or one of its variants is our only explanation as to why kids say no, we respond with coercion or downright force.
Children need to learn how to set limits. This isn’t to say they need to be able to make all of their own choices. That’s hardly the case. However, they do need to learn how to express their wishes and not simply live up to all of the expectations of others. Kids need to learn to say, “I don’t like that, I’m not going to do that, I don’t like you doing that to me,” and other examples of saying no.
One of the problems we face as parents and caregivers is learning how, exactly, we are supposed to respond to children when they say no. A trap we get into is we want kids to like our ideas better than their own. We say things, “You’ll do it and like it, or else!” When kids say something like, “Ok, I’ll do it, but I won’t like it,” we get more incensed. Why? Do we really expect my 3 year-old, Aubrey, to enjoy picking up her toys? Ridiculous!
I can respond to such statements with something like, “It’s just fine if you don’t like it.” That allows me to acknowledge my child expressed a desire but avoids a confrontation that ultimately involves me trying to change her desires.
When No Becomes Defiance
I would be remiss to not acknowledge that some children’s “no’s” really are expressions of defiance. In these circumstances, children need to learn to accept “no” as well. Consistency is an important need in these circumstances. Children need to be given limits that are always the same and always have consequences. Keep respecting and acknowledging your child’s no. However, you get to set the limits and you have to be consistent in those limits.
Have your children ever frustrated you with “no”? Tell us how you overcame that. We would love to hear from you!