What Do You Do With A Child That Says No

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie. I hope you are having a great day! My question is, “What do you do with a child that says no?” Our son is seven. We taught our kids to believe that they are their own boss. This was mostly to help with bullying, but we told them that they are in control of themselves. Unfortunately, doing what we thought was best has now backfired. If our son does not want to do something, he will say, “I don’t want to be forced to do anything that I don’t want to do, and you can’t force me to do stuff.”

However, we also want our kids to know that there are some things in life that you don’t want to do but have to. Currently he is in this fun hockey program, and when it is time to get ready to go, at least most of the time, he will put up a fight and say he is not going, and then he starts with this whole, “You can’t force me” thing. We tell him that it is fine and that he doesn’t have to go on the ice, but he will need to go to the arena and explain to the coach why he will not be participating. Is this the right thing to do? Or are we putting too much pressure on him?

I told him that he has to finish this summer session. I told my husband not to put him in it and to give him a break, but he registered him anyway. Now, our son does not want to go. My question is, should I let him decide because otherwise he will say he is being forced? I also said to our son that he needed to do some research and pick one sports activity for the fall, otherwise he would end up as a couch potato. He is allowed to watch TV for an hour after school, but he is not allowed to play video games until the weekend. He is a stockier kid, and we tell him we need to keep our bodies healthy. He seems to get tired very easily, which we have had checked out medically, and everything is fine.

His normal bedtime is between 7 and 8 p.m., and he gets up at 7 a.m. However, if he stays up late on a Friday night for our movie night until 10 p.m., he is a bear for the rest of the weekend. Now that summer is here, I want him to take the initiative and go outside and enjoy the nice weather without running through the sprinkler for 10 minutes and then deciding he has had enough. Afterwards, he wants to  come inside and watch TV. Would you please provide us with some guidance as to how to handle this situation?

Thanks Rosanna

Hi Rosanna,

What to do with a child that says no.I think you already have a good idea of what you’re dealing with here. You’re aware that some of your previous commentary has backfired because there are some things you just have to do in life, whether you want to or not. This is a wonderful question, and it’s something that many people ask in different ways. What is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in children? It’s something I also deal with through my parent support services.

What to do with a child that says no: So here’s what to do.

Here’s what I’d do in this situation: Sit down with him and explain that you need to clarify what you’ve said to him in the past. Explain the difference between being forced to do something by peers or adults that is wrong (i.e., lying to a parent, engaging in behaviours, or going somewhere without your permission) and being forced to do something because of

1) Obligation to someone else, e.g., I broke it, so I have to replace it, or it’s nice to help the granny down the street shovel her driveway because she’s nice and old and I’m a neighbour.

2) School obligation: If I don’t do my homework, I’ll be letting myself and my future down.

3) Obligation to a team: If I don’t go, I will be letting down the team and my family.

What to do with a child that says no: Allow him to feel the consequences of his decisions.

The above are examples of situations where it is the job of the parent to make sure the child fulfills their responsibilities. Once you explain the differences, keep on explaining, but don’t launch into a huge lecture. The bottom line is that you expect proper behaviour, and you will do what is necessary to get it. You did totally the right thing in saying no one can force you on the ice, but we can certainly take you to the coach for you to explain why you don’t want to participate. If that happens again, don’t be afraid to do exactly that.

If you are clever, you can use the above type of response with many different types of behaviour.  If he doesn’t do his homework, you can’t physically force him, but what you can do is provide a place for it, time, and encouragement. If that isn’t enough, phone the school in advance so that they can inadvertently “notice” that it isn’t done. Then let the natural consequences happen. Hopefully the teacher will say, “Oh, what a shame that you didn’t finish your homework; now you will have to stay in to complete it.”

What to do with a child that says no: Stick with one activity for a reasonable period.

I think it’s just fine to allow him to pick one activity, but if he does, explain that he must stick with it because he will have an obligation to other people. Having said that, I wouldn’t force him to undertake any activity he has shown (after a season of trying) to really dislike. Some of these programs can get very intense, and the emphasis becomes on doing well instead of simply enjoying the activity. Of course, being able to choose only applies to activities he does outside of school (with boundaries), as school will no doubt have its share of things he doesn’t like but that he will just have to get on with.

Make sure you’re the one that’s leading.

My other thought is that it sounds as if the “not forcing” has turned somewhat into him calling the shots about what happens. “I’ll have fun in the sprinkler and then watch TV.” Much of parenting is about leadership, and you can’t expect him to use any initiative unless you put him in a situation where he needs to. Turn off the TV as many times as it takes. If he refuses to stop, unplug it and remove it. Then go get involved in something else and leave him. Believe me, he will get bored, and it’s important to allow that boredom to happen because from it will eventually come something magical, and that’s imagination.

Make him part of the activity but not always the focus of it.

In the meantime, just make sure that you are doing your natural leadership bit by being involved in something that isn’t him. You don’t want to hang around, making him think your life’s work is wondering what he wants to do next or entertaining him. So many parents make this crucial mistake. You must be involved in other tasks, which you can involve him in if he wishes. If you are gardening, he can help. If you are doing the laundry, let him sort socks. If you are cooking, let him join in, but don’t make the activity about him. Make it about the family as a whole. Don’t cook cookies all the time, as that’s about him. Cook a stew instead.

If he’s tired, just let him get a good night’s sleep and have your movie night a bit earlier for a while. He obviously needs a lot of sleep, and that’s ok. Every human being differs in their need for sleep. For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.
Hope that helps.

All the best


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