My Child Won't Accept 'No'

My Child Won't Accept 'No'

Sometimes, parents and other caregivers tell me that every time they tell their child ‘no,’ the child has a tantrum or meltdown. The adult says ‘no’ and the child screams or hits.

            Child:  Mommy, can I have a popsicle?

            Adult:  No. It’s almost dinner time. Maybe after dinner.

If your child melts down when told ‘no’, there is a good chance the child is only hearing part of what you say. Children often stop listening when the first word is ‘no.’

Adults do this too. Especially when we are stressed or when the answer is very important to us. You’ve probably had this experience yourself.  You ask your partner to help carry in the groceries. Partner says ‘No. I can’t right now. Wait a minute while I get my shoes.’ You only hear the word ‘no.’  You grumpily think, well, that’s the last time I help you with anything.

One simple idea is to use different words in responding to your child. Try hard to avoid saying ‘no.’ Many children shut down when they hear ‘no.’ It is a word that closes communication channels. As adults, we want to keep the channels of communication open. We want the child to be an active partner in the give and take of communicating with us. ‘Yes’ is a word that keeps communications flowing.

            Child:  Mommy, can I have a popsicle?

            Adult:  Yes. We have some popsicles in the freezer. We can have them for dessert. Would you like to help set the table?


            Teen:  Hey Pop. Can I have the car to go to the mall?

            Adult:  Yes. You can have the car as soon as you take the trash out.

This approach doesn’t mean giving in to the demands that children make. Sometimes the final answer is that the child does not get what they want. Our phrasing can give the child more time to manage their emotions and process the information we are giving them. If they discuss, or even argue, it is still keeping the channels of back and forth communication open. This represents a higher developmental level than a tantrum, hitting, or name calling. Read more about developmental levels on my website.


Blog Disclaimer:  Please be aware that this blog contains general information. It is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as treatment or a recommendation or prescription for a particular child. If you have questions about your child, please talk to your pediatrician or seek other professional services.