How to Teach Your Child to Accept Being Told “No”

October 9, 2015

Many children display problem behavior (tantrums, crying/whining) when they are told “no”. This can be a stressful, embarrassing, and exhausting situation for parents. Imagine the parent in the store or checkout line with the screaming or crying child that wants something the parent will not let them have. Often as the problem behavior increases in intensity or duration (and becomes increasingly stressful, embarrassing or exhausting), a parent may find themselves giving in. Unfortunately, when a parent “gives in” to something the child was previously told “no” to, it teaches the child tantrums or crying/whining will get them what they want.

At BCOTB we have a program which focuses specifically on teaching a child to “accept no” without displaying problem behavior. Teaching “Accepting No” is taught using 6 steps.

  1. Wait for your child to make a request for an item, activity or action. Ex. Your child asks for animal crackers.
  2. Calmly, but politely say, “No, you can’t have animal crackers right now, but you can have Goldfish.”
  3. Assess their reaction to your statement. If they seem to “tolerate” the alternative item offered, go ahead and deliver it. Tolerating behaviors may be reaching for the Goldfish, saying “Goldfish,” sticking their hand to have you hand them the Goldfish, etc. If they DO NOT seem to tolerate the alternative offered (if they cry/whine, scream, snatch, say “No,” etc., block access to both items (animal crackers and Goldfish) and do not offer anything at this time.
  4. Ignore any problem behavior that is not harmful to themselves or others.
  5. Practice as often as possible throughout the day to increase the number of times the child is exposed to being told no to.
  6. Vary the types of things you say no to.

The “Accepting No” program is progressive so at first the child is offered an alternative item/activity that is an equivalent to the item/activity they were told “no”. For example, if the child asks for animal crackers, the parent may say “No you can’t have the animal crackers, but you can have a Popsicle”. It is important that at the beginning of this program the parent is selecting items/activities that are equally preferred (e.g. the child likes animal crackers and popsicles equally).

Once the child is consistent with accepting no when an equally preferred item is offered, the parent can begin saying “no” to the item/activity the child wants and then offering a somewhat less preferred item/activity. For example, if a child wants to wear a favorite blue shirt, the parent may say “No you can’t wear your blue shirt with the dragon, but you can wear your red shirt”. It is important that the parent select an item/activity that is somewhat less preferred than the item/activity the child wants (e.g. the child likes the red shirt slightly less than the blue one).

If problem behavior occurs during any of the progressive alternatives offered (equally preferred, somewhat less preferred) the alternative offered is no longer offered. This is a very important step in the child learning to accept no. If the parent provides the alternative item/activity the child learns that they can still “get” something when they engage in problem behavior. If problem behavior occurs, no longer offer either of the items and ignore the problem behavior (e.g. do not look at the child or comment on their actions). See “Ignoring Junk Behavior

When the child continues to be consistent with accepting no when a less preferred alternative item is offered, the parent can begin saying “no” and not offering an alternative item/activity. For example, the parent may say “No you can’t have animal crackers.” It is important the parent praise the child if they accept no without problem behavior. If the child engages in problem behavior, ignore the problem behavior.

When teaching “accepting no” it is important to remember that when starting a program like this the behavior will often get worse before it gets better. This is called an extinction burst which basically means the problem behavior that previously “worked” to get them the item/activity they wanted is no longer working so the behavior may increase in intensity, duration, etc. The child’s 5 minute tantrum used to get the item/activity they wanted (ice cream, playing the IPad) so the child may increase the tantrum intensity or duration to try to access that item (e.g. a 5 minute tantrum didn’t “work” so now they may try to see if a 10 minute tantrum will get them what they want). This can be a complicated program and should be individualized for each child. Please contact any of our certified staff on guidance or support in implementing this program.

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