All kids say NO. Some say no more than others, but saying NO is a daily fact of life for all of us, including our kids.
In fact, our kids have quite a few different ways of refusing to cooperate. When it comes to NO, it’s not just about quantity, it’s also about quality. As always, we start at the beginning and take a careful look at exactly what’s going on. #youarehere
Let’s look at four different ways kids say NO:
#1 Simple refusal
Many children master this powerful skill around the age of two, and they use it to great effect. “No!” “No thank you!” “I don’t want to!” It’s simple and devastatingly effective.
If your child is very young, this kind of communication can be frustrating but it’s a very good alternative to hitting or screaming. As your child gets older, you will probably continue to hear it, but it can be the starting point of a conversation. It’s not the nicest response, but it’s certainly not the worst.
#2 Passive non-compliance
It’s the quietest kind of refusal. If you hear yourself saying “Did you hear me? I’m talking to you!” then your child might be using passive non-compliance to avoid your request. Some families even take their children to have their hearing checked! If your child doesn’t respond to your instructions or simply “forgets” within seconds, then the answer is technically NO.
Very young children often use this tactic, but as children get older, they notice that ignoring doesn’t usually work for long. If your child is avoiding or ignoring your instructions, it’s quite hard to find out might be bothering him or her about your request. Fortunately, children can learn to be more assertive in communicating their needs and wants, with some practice and coaching.
#3 Direct defiance
There’s no confusing about this type of communication. It’s the ear-piercing shriek, the unspeakable insult, the flying pair of socks. One mother described it this way: “it definitely burns some calories.” Direct defiance is more than a simple refusal. There’s an extra intensity that makes discussion quite difficult.
As typical children get older, they tend to use direct defiance less and less, because it gets negative feedback from others. However, for children who struggle with emotional self-regulation and seeing other people’s point of view, this type of super-charged refusal can lead to upsetting situations at home and school.
“Why not?” “How about five more minutes?” “What about later?”
Some children are expert negotiators! Maybe they are destined for a brilliant career as an attorney or sales manager some day. For now, the bargaining and arguing can make life a little bit complicated. (I remember using this tactic with my own family when I was a child. I needed a ride to an activity, but the car wasn’t available, so I suggested that we rent a hot air balloon. I remember the look of frustration of my father’s face, and thinking “Why isn’t he impressed that I came up with this totally perfect creative solution?”)
If your child is driving you crazy with negotiation, here’s the good news: your child is actually practicing creative problem-solving, emotional self-regulation, and perspective-taking! Researchers even call this a “skillful form of non-compliance.” Given a choice between negotiation, a simple “no,” a defiant insult, or a sudden silence, which would you choose?
Is there a GOOD kind of refusal?
Our kids are going to refuse to cooperate sometimes. This is just part of growing up, learning to be assertive, and having preferences that don’t match ours. When our children communicate using avoidance and defiance, they might be missing the skills to be assertive, to state a preference, or to suggest an alternative.
The next time you find yourself in a disagreement with your child, listen carefully. What kind of refusal are you hearing?
If it’s a negotiation, or a simple no, count your blessings! There’s room here to talk, to listen and discuss. It’s funny to think of “rewarding” a child for refusing to cooperate, but this kind of communication is a normal part of growing up. Before you push your point of view, stop and engage whenever possible. If you allow some polite disagreement, you are giving your child a reason to communicate. If you side-step the discussion, your child might jump straight to avoidance or defiance, and the conversation quickly spirals into a power struggle instead.
If your child seems to have a very hard time stating a preference, suggesting a compromise, or communicating with courtesy, there is hope! These are skills that can be taught! We can’t guarantee that our children will always agree with us, but with the right coaching, they will learn to assert themselves more respectfully.
I’d be delighted to join your team if you need help with this. Reach out to me here, and we can create a plan to take your child’s communication from saucy to sweeter!