How to say "no" to your child

Parentune Support
7 to 11 years

Created by Parentune Support
Updated on Feb 03, 2021

How to say no to your child
Reviewed by Expert panel

‘’NO’’ is a word which can be said without any effort, quick on the lips and can be said without a thought. It is a power packed word and is certainly an under rated one in a parent-child relationship. It is one of the words I have heard most toddlers before they even learn to talk. I am guilty of saying No when it is convenient and often without thinking from my child’s perspective. There have been times when both my children simultaneously decide to throw tantrums especially in a public place and in between all the commotion I lose my cool, my ability to think straight and instead of trying to calmly handle the situation, I have been guilty of saying no to everything they say.

So, how do we say No to our child?

How to give in to their demands?

Aarti, mother to 7 year old Vicky, exclaims, ‘my son goes out of control when we visit the mall. He throws a fit and we end up giving in to his wishes by buying him a new toy just to save us from embarrasment. Now he has thousands of toys which he doesn’t play with. How do we handle his outbursts?’
This kind of a question is very common. Parents often give in to their children’s demands just to quieten the child and save the parents from embarrassment in public. This behaviour often starts young and if parents give into the tantrums even once, the child takes it as a guaranteed tactic, which will work each time. If such a situation arises in a public place, the following tips could come in handy:

1. Offer solutions or alternatives: Tell your child that if he/she stops the fit, then you could go and have an ice cream or go to the park later in the day. Offering alternatives or having a few options wherein your child can choose what he/she would like to do instead will help control the situation and also help your child to look forward to something else. A direct No is not a good solution as it does not help your child to think positively.

2. Listen and discuss calmly: We can easily get side tracked with our idea of not giving into the child’s demands but sometimes, listening and explaining to your child, may help to manage the situation by coming to a consensual solution.
3. Explain beforehand: Before reaching the public place, you may explain to your child what you expect from him/her. You may list out the do’s and dont’s and ask your child to repeat them. I have one of these sessions with my children each time we plan to step out and also remind them on the way. Now they are very used to the rules and if at all they decide to play up, a gentle reminder helps them stay calm, thankfully.
4. Help your child understand what kind of behaviour is expected and why.
Little children cannot distinguish the right behaviour from the wrong. All they know is how to behave based on past experiences. Hence, sitting down with your child and explaining why they should not expect a toy/chocolate/candies/gifts or stay at their friend’s place after an evening of playing together will help them understand your point of view. Your child may also share his/her feelings. This is a great way to get started on positive communication and changing any negative behaviour.

5. Do you always have to stay firm? When to give in?
In a situation when your child is throwing a fit, you know what you should do, but the easier way out is to give in. But as we know that giving in is not the best solution for the long run. We don’t have to be strict and firm all the time as this may create a fear among the child and he/she may be afraid to share their thoughts. Helping your child understand what is expected and if he/she does as told over a few instances, you may give in to your child’s wish for playing that extra 10 minutes, or having that remote controlled car. But again, the child needs to understand that he/she got to stay longer at the park because they listened and did as expected over the last week. Giving in to their wishes should be like a reward. This will only motivate them to listen to you and tantrums will gradually be a thing of the past.
6. How do I ensure consistency from the other members of the family?
Lucy’s 6 year old wants to be fed and watch her favourite cartoon at mealtimes. Jenny is not in favour of this habit and wants her daughter Jenny to eat at the dinner table and without any distraction. But mealtimes become a battlefield as Lucy refuses to give into Jenny’s demand of sitting in the sofa and being fed. Unfortunately, Jenny’s grandmother intervenes as she does not like to see her cry. So every evening, Jenny is fed by her grandmother with her eyes glued to the television. This has created a friction between Lucy and her mother-in-law and Jenny has found a way to get what she wants.
This is a very common scenario and we all have faced it sometime or the other. They best solution is to have a chat with the other members of the family and convey what, as a parent, you think should be done. Hear out their views but gently draw a line and take control of certain situations. For instance, Lucy and her mother-in-law can come to a conclusion of allowing her to watch cartoons after dinner and her mom in law can feed Jenny at the dinner table if they so wish. It is important to have consistency from all the members of the family.
7. Be a role model.
If you want your child to behave in a certain way, it is important for us to behave appropriately for them to be able to follow and pick up the right behaviour. For instance, we have a rule of no chocolates after 6 pm. Once my daughter caught me eating a piece of chocolate just before dinner and questioned me on it. Guilty and worse, caught red handed, I apologised and immediately told her that it will not happen again. Surprisingly, my apology made quite an impact on her and she does apologise too each time she makes a mistake. I could easily say that I am her mother and can do what I want or ignore her completely, but that would not set a good example and I would most certainly have the same behaviour back from her. So as parents, we should try to be humble and behave in a manner to set an example to our child.
Tips to handle an outburst and to manage the public eye:
1. Don’t shout: Scolding or shouting will only agitate your child and will wind you up. Keep calm instead.
2. Don’t try and reason with your child when he/she is in the middle of an outburst: Your child is most likely to take every word you say negatively when at the peak of the tantrum. So let the storm pass before you think of talking to your child. Go to a quieter place to help your child get over his/her emotions.
3. Anticipate and prevent trigger factors: The big trigger factors for outbursts are hunger, tiredness or boredom. Carry snacks along, leave at a time when your child is not likely to be tired, for example, after a nap; if your child is bored of walking around in the mall, take him/he outdoors for some fresh air, or go to the play area for a few minutes to help them get over the boredom.
4. Don’t get physical with your child: Sometimes parents get overwhelmed and can raise hands on their child. It is common among parents with older children, who talk back and ignore the parent completely. It is easy to get the frustration out with a few slaps but in the end what we are teaching the child is to handle an angry situation with aggression.
5. Keep calm: It used to be a nightmare for me to take both my children out to the play area or the supermarket. Either one would throw a fit or the other would follow suit. I have, on a couple of occasions, let my anger take over and have either shouted at them, grit my teeth, or freeze up completely. Well, with each instance I realised what I was doing is wrong. So I tried being calm instead and talk to them once the tantrum was over. Staying calm and consistent are the key in diffusing any heated situation.
6. Give consequences for bad behaviour: Good behaviour should be rewarded and bad behaviour should have consequences. If your child decides to play up, then you may warn him/her that there will be, for example, no T.V time if they continue with the behaviour. If the warning does not work, then the child does not get to watch T.V for a day or two, depending on the severity of the behaviour. It is important to stick to the consequence and follow it through as told to the child; else he/she will know that mummy or daddy will never follow through and that they are just empty threats.
7. Signal your child: You may convey to your child that there will be a change in the activity in 5 minutes. For instance, if you would like to return home from the park and your child wants to play a little longer, instead of upsetting them by taking them away without a warning, you may instead signal by saying that we will leave for home in another 10 minutes. This way the child will have some time to wind up with the playing, say bye to his/her friends also more importantly, be prepared to leave without a fight.
8. ‘Bye bye’: Babies and toddlers love to experiment and anything can become a toy. You may find your child playing with the bottle of perfume. It is of course necessary to take it from the child right away, but if you snatch it out from your child’s hand, it will only upset him/her and result in a temper tantrum. Instead gently tell your child that it is time to say bye bye to the perfume and let him/her put it up on the shelf. It is very likely that the bottle of perfume will get a few kisses and a long good bye. This trick always works with my two year old. Even phrases like good night and see you later work. If your child still throws a fit, divert his/her attention to another activity. It is likely that he/she will forget about the perfume in no time.
9. Pocket money: To avoid your child from crying for a new toy each time you step out, you may get a little piggy bank and encourage him/her to save some money. Once there is enough money to buy the toy, your child can have it. This will also teach them the value of money and gives them a sense of independence.
10. Do not avoid a situation: Roshni does not take her daughter to the mall as she cannot handle the child’s behaviour. The 2 year old pulls out clothes, shoes, toys and throws them around. It is a nightmare for Roshni. She has not taken her daughter to any store for about 4 months now and does not intend to do it anytime soon. What I would say works, on the contrary, is taking your child out and facing the situation together. Explaining the rules, what is expected from them and gentle reminders will show their results even though the first few trips may feel like a complete failure of efforts. Children learn very quickly and if faced with similar circumstances, they will know what is expected and behave accordingly.
Please share your experiences and thoughts on this topic.
While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about.
-Angela Schwindt

This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

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| Mar 22, 2017

does the idea equally work with toddlers of 2-3 years in malls etc.

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| Mar 27, 2017

Children more than age of 2 years can understand your speech. explaining them before we are going out really helps a lot. for example if you are taking your child to a mall, explain your kid how to behave, and it is not good ask for whatever they see. tell the kid that we need to buy only the needful things. always carry your child's favourite snack. don't ever beat or shout them. if your kid pulls everything, tell them strictly that it is not good. often take them out. they will get used to it. Whenever your has not misbehaved or when they listen to you, appreciate . I use to put a star in son's hand. Never get your child all the things they cry for, it will spoil their future. you have to select all their things don't allow them to decide till they are atleast 10. Buying them their choice of food , flavour of ice-cream are not the issues.

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| Apr 09, 2017

explaining things to my 2 yr old before we step out has really worked for me... i do it every time we go out and now he is used to it... he kind of waits for my instructions the moment we get into the car...

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| Apr 13, 2017

hello my son is seven years old and he always demands for a new toy and when we refuse,he got aggressive. We try to give him options but he doesn't understand and irritate us and also misbehaving us. At that time, we feel helpless

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| May 26, 2017

Superb write-up!

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