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What Do I Do When My Child Just Says No?

What to do when child says no

Recently we received this question from Michelle:

I am struggling with a tween who often says no to my requests. She is a good girl most of the time, but she will be disrespectful to me, and I have no idea what appropriate/related consequences to give her when she tells me “no,” and then in essence dismisses me by looking back down at her book, ipod, etc.

I try to remain calm, but when I tell her this is a warning, and that she will have a consequence for not obeying, she will look at me and ask what it is. And normally say, “Oh well, no big deal,” and still not obey me. I also realize that hormones are playing a part in her behavior, but she cannot say no to me when I ask her to do something. HELP!!! Normally she will apologize later that night when we are praying together, but she still didn’t do whatever I asked.

Jim’s response:
It’s so great that after an encounter like that your daughter will apologize and pray with you. It shows that she respects you and feels remorse for what she’s done. This is actually rather uncommon, and you can feel grateful for this – even affirm it in your daughter.

As it relates to her defiance, it’s normal for tweens to say “no” to parents’ requests, and can actually be a healthy developmental reaction. She’s growing up and learning that she is in control of her life, and you are not. This isn’t to say you should let disrespect slide. A respectful and thoughtful response is needed if you want to guide her to grow in wisdom about the decisions she makes.

  1. Take an honest look at how you’re communicating. Start by considering, “What’s it like to be my daughter when I make requests?”
    • Do I talk excessively or in a condescending way?
    • Do I expect resistance, producing a frustrated edge to my voice?
    • How would I feel if a visiting mother or mother-in-law asked me in a similar way to do something for them?
      Most parents come to realize that their emerging young adults tend to feel shamed or controlled by parents’ requests.  Learning a new, sincere way to make requests has helped a lot of parents.
  2. Decide whether the request you’re making is optional. Considering your child’s growing independence, instead of, “It’s cold, so put on your jacket before you go!” you can offer an option that is not a command, giving your child freedom to choose. “It’s cold. You might want to wear a jacket.” Or you may consider saying nothing at all and letting your child learn the hard way (which is usually the best learning!)
  3. Be clear about the rules and calmly follow-through, if the request is non-negotiable. The rationale should be clearly discussed when the rule is made, not every time it is implemented! Most parents spend way too much time and big, negative energy trying to explain and justify, which trains kids to expect an overly detailed, convincing argument for every request.For example, if the rule is, “Your room must be clean before you turn a screen on,” and you find your tween on Snapchat before the room is clean, there is no need to even make a request. You can either calmly remove the phone privilege immediately, or if you want to offer one merciful reminder you can gently say, “Oops, looks like you forgot that the room needs to be clean. If you get to it right away, you can have your phone back tonight.” If the child ignores you, then quickly and calmly remove the privilege until the room is clean.
  4. Empathize and connect if your child complains. She may try to get you to give in or go back into explaining mode, but resist. She needs no more explanation at this point. NOW is the time to connect with her positively, even if she’s acting negatively, by empathizing. Like this: “I know it’s hard to break away from your friends. But you’ll get it, I know you will. Want some help cleaning your room, or can you take care of this on your own?”By responding this way, you are earning your child’s respect rather than forcing it. With this goal in mind, you can take a deep breath when your daughter says, “No!” You can pray to embody God’s grace and for her to receive it. You can calmly observe what you see and ask truly curious questions — “What’s behind that no? Is there some help you need to get started (with chores/homework/etc)?” The more you do this sort of thing, the more your daughter will perceive you as her ally, not her enemy. And the more she will begin to think about her actions and attitudes right away, instead of later in the day or not at all.
  5. Problem-solve outside of the conflict. Then, outside of these encounters, offer to pray with her, or when all is well, do some empathizing and problem solving — not in a judging way, but in a curious way: “So honey, it seems like it’s hard for you to put your phone down sometimes.” She’ll probably start to bristle, anticipating a lecture. This is your great opportunity to let her know you understand her and aren’t going to lecture her. “I get it. It’s hard for me to shift gears into responsibilities when I’m reading (watching TV, or otherwise engaged in something I enjoy). What are your ideas about how we could work together to prioritize your responsibilities when you are distracted by technology?”

These sort of gentle responses will help your daughter begin to take more responsibility for her life and tasks in a way that can even strengthen your relationship.

Have a question like Michelle’s? We’d love to hear from you too! We can’t promise a personal response from Jim or Lynne, but someone from our team will be in touch.

Want to learn more about these concepts? Download our one hour recording of a Discipline That Connects workshop.

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Jim and Lynne Jackson
Jim and Lynne Jackson
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