Tuesday, July 16, 2013

No more "No"

Over the years, I have learned (the hard way) the right way and the wrong way to respond to a child's questions, inquiries and curiosities.   When phrased correctly, even a negative answer can be turned into a positive.  You need to remember that children have a much more delicate emotional and mental understanding of how you communicate with them than we do as adults.  As adults, we have the ability to process information as a whole, and then dissect that information into relevant pieces so that the answer makes sense according to the question.

Example 1:
(one adult to another)
> "Can I have another serving of dinner?"
> "No.  That was the last of it."
> "Okay, never mind then!"
*** An adult hears the entire answer, 7 words total, then processes those seven words.  The adult understands that the reason the answer is "no" is because there is no more dinner left.

Example 2:
(child to adult)
> "Can I have a cookie?"
> "No.  You have to finish you dinner first"
> " But I want a COOOOOOKIEEEEE!!!!!"
(and a temper tantrum ensues)
***The child hears your answer in the order that you said it.  8 words, but he only heard 1 word.  "No".  Once he hears that word, the rest of what you say just blows away in the wind.  He isn't capable of processing the entire response and dissecting it the way adults can.  He doesn't understand that you want him to eat this dinner first, he just knows that you are NOT going to give him a cookie ... EVER!

You have to stop and think about what the child's meaning is behind what he said.  Just because he asks for a cookie right now does not mean that he wants the cookie right now.  He simply had a thought and voiced it.  Children will typically speak their minds quickly and without filters.  They haven't learned yet how to file away their thoughts and bring them up again at a later (more appropriate) time. 

So how do you respond to a child so that he hears what you mean (and not what you say) 

Replace "No" with "Yes" ... or just eliminate the "no" all together. 

Example 3:
(child to adult)
> "Can I have a cookie?"
> "Yes.  Finish your dinner and then you can pick out a cookie"
> "Okay!  Thank you!"

He isn't asking you if he can stop eating dinner and have a cookie instead.  He wants a cookie, but he doesn't necessarily want it right now.  He just had a thought pop into his brain and he needed to say it out loud before he forgot about it.

Example 4:
(child to adult)
> "Can I have my cookie now?"
> "Lets finish our dinner first okay? Can you clean you plate for me please"
> "But I want my cookie NOW!"
> "Okay.  The faster you eat your dinner the faster you can have your cookie!  Let's eat!  Hurry hurry! Our cookies are waiting for us!"
***Give him a task, challenge him to a game or a race.  Appeal to his competitive side (or what ever personality trait he has) and he will see your response as a positive not a negative.

You're the adult.  You have the ability to process and dissect information, so take a moment to think before you speak.  Phrase your responses in a positive tone, avoid the negatives whenever possible.

I want to add a footnote here.  I do say "no" when necessary.  I'm not advising you to give in to your child's every whim.  My nephew and twin niece/nephew (9 & 7 respectively) know that when I say "no" that is exactly what I mean.  Since I do not use the word "no" during normal ... negotiations? ... they realize that NO means NO

>"Can I play a game on your phone?"
>"No you may not"
> (stop what I'm doing, look him straight in the eye) "What did I say?"
> "No"
> "and what does the mean?"
> "No"
> "thank you" (return to what I was doing.  Discussion over)

I am not being mean or cruel, I just do not allow begging or pleading.  It was a slow, gentle process, but over the years they have come to understand that I only say "no" when I mean it.  It is a final decision, not an opening for further negotiations.

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