Ok, so if you read through Part 1, we decoded the use of our word “no” from our kids hearing “NEVER EVER AGAIN” and translated it to a much better “Not Right Now." This change in phrasing has the potential to avoid some meltdowns by supplying children with a more accurate, less finite response. Now let’s take a peek at what to do next!
When was the last time you heard the word “no” and just accepted it? Didn’t ask questions, weren’t given an explanation, and were able to cheerfully move along like a cartoon mouse. My guess is that it’s been a while - if it’s ever happened. The word “no” without explanation tends to build resentment, disappointment, anger and frustration in all of us. Kids are no different - those little bodies and minds are still human and are going to feel the same way you would. One big difference, however, is that YOU have had a lifetime to develop your maturity and self-control to help you manage those emotions, if ever you’ve had to deal with the occasional “no with no explanation, reasoning, or permission to ask questions.” Second, you’re a grown-up, and you have the power to figure out how you’ll get what you want anyway.
The reality is that kids need information. They don’t think like adults. They don’t have all the connections rolling in their brain and across hemispheres to put all that together for themselves. They need us to do it for them. They need us to spell out that what they want CAN and WILL happen again, when it is appropriate. They need to hear that we care about what they want, and they need our help pairing the logic and emotion in the situation to diffuse an overreaction. They can’t pair the logic if they don’t have the information, and they can’t always find that information on their own. They are not in control of their worlds. We, as parents and caregivers, are. They are at the discretion of our permission on when and where they will be next and what they will have or be allowed to do. Because the decision is typically going to be up to us, they can only know when or how these things will happen if we tell them. Also, keep in mind that many times when we say "no" to something, they automatically pair that as "we will always say 'no' to that thing in the future." They need to know that eventually there could be a “yes,” but it has to be under different circumstances.
So after we’ve considered changing our language to “not right now,” or even if we stick to the handy two letter word “no,” we allow them to practice using their own reasoning for why what they want can’t happen right now by giving them more information. If they can’t have the toy, explain to them it’s because they need to earn it. If they want to go swimming, and it isn’t a good day or it’s the middle of February, give them the information about what your plans are, or the weather report, or why it won’t work today. If they want to use their new paint set, but grandma’s coming over to bake cookies, explain there isn’t enough room in the kitchen for two messes. Whatever the reason is for your “no,” it’s best to just tell them.
Next, we go a step further and give our kid some information for when they will be able to have or do what it is they are asking for. If they can’t go outside and play now, then when will they get a chance to? If they can’t have this treat now, then when will they get a treat again? Most of the time we have this information, but we don’t offer it because their response to our initial answer stinks so bad, we don’t want to give them this oh-so-magical insight into how they can get or have what they want. WE’RE MAD NOW TOO! We get caught up then into a potential power struggle of “No matter what you do now, you really are ‘NEVER’ getting that thing you wanted!!” We sometimes may run with that old-school thinking of “Kids just need to hear ‘no’ and deal with it.”
Finally, the method to the magic is remaining consistent with what you say and creating a relationship where they trust you will follow through with what you explained. If you say “You can have your ice cream after you eat your dinner,” then if they eat their dinner = they get ice cream. If you said they could play video games when they got their homework done, then that homework must get done before they can play. Staying consistent and following through will also foster a sense of cooperation in those moments when they are at the intersection of "Believing You" and "Throwing A Fit." If they can believe you, they will probably save their energy and work for (or wait for) what they know they can have. Trust is a BIG DEAL. Regardless of your follow through and consistency there may be some kids who will still struggle with trusting that they will eventually get what they felt like they want or need.
“But what if I can’t explain in the moment and 'no' just means 'no?'” you ask. Well that’s going to happen. No worries here, life will provide you with many of these moments on its own. The rest of the time it’s best to offer information and help your child use their whole brain (the emotional and logical) to think through the situation and respond. “But if I do that, won’t they expect an explanation every single time?” you ask. Actually, no, they most likely won’t. Because you’ve shown them you typically have good reasons and judgement behind your decisions, you have established TRUST that even when you can’t give them all those details, your reasoning is, in fact, there and they will be more likely to accept your response.
Bringing forward a more relaxed Not Right Now, explaining your reasoning, and communicating an idea for when it can or will happen gives kids enough insight to then decide how they feel about it. They may still not like it and freak out anyway. Or they may feel more stable about the situation, accept it for what it is and trust what you say. By following those steps, it almost caps the situation so their mind does not have a chance to wander into extremes about never ever getting what they want, or how brother or sister always gets what they want instead, or they’ll never survive without what they want, and on and on and on… They will have a chance to problem solve, practice patience, build trust that their needs will be met and that you will say what you mean and mean what you say. Again, there will be some kids who need even more help with this and struggle on an even bigger level, with rigid thinking. But for many kids, changing your habits on how you communicate the big bad “NO” may help avoid some of the big emotions that could follow.