- Mom, I am going to play football.
- No, you have played enough today. It's already late, now we will do quiet reading, brush teeth and go to bed.
- But I want to, I want to play football!
- No! I told you – it is too late!
- But I'll go anyway ...
With these words, one of my sons slammed the door to the garden and started kicking the ball. One hundred thousand red buttons instantly lit up in my head, I lost control of my emotions and a few seconds later I was outside, shouting at him and trying to make him go back in the house. The situation was unpleasant, and it took us both a while to calm down, talk it through and hug each other. Unfortunately, this was not the first time something like this had happened.
Every time there is a potential conflict, I notice that the word “NO” provokes my son to become rebellious and opposed to everything I am trying to explain. It leads to further escalation of the conflict, heated emotions and, ultimately, us falling out for a while. I feel helpless, start threatening or bribing him, the whole family gets involved and the atmosphere in the house becomes heavy. And then it takes time for all of us to get back on track.
For years, I have been reading clever books on parenting and became a parent educator myself, so why wasn’t I using the knowledge and tools I teach to others? So once and for all, I have firmly decided to change this repeated pattern in our house and to finish with these unnecessary battles.
How to do this? Well, what if I look at these situations through his eyes?
What a Child Hears When You Say "No"
What if, when mom says “NO,” he interprets it in his own way. For example:
- My desires are not important to you ...
- Your instructions are much more important than my feelings ...
- You get angry all the time ...
- You do not give me the opportunity to explain my reasons...
- I'm bad, because I make you shout ...
And many other ways in which a small person living “here and now” with an undeveloped prefrontal cortex can hear and feel (btw the prefrontal cortex will continue developing for many more years and will be formed completely only by the age of 25). So, at the age of 6 it is very normal that my son’s own desires and decisions at times seem more important than the requests of his parents. And the more I pressure him to do things my way, the more misunderstandings and conflicts may arise.
Then what to do? There is no direct and simple answer (just like for any other parent-child related questions) here, but your own life experience, the ability to manage emotions and the desire to find that secret path to interaction with a stubborn and egocentric child's brain can be very useful.
So, if we assume that instead of the usual short and convenient word “NO”, the child hears something that upsets him and devalues his feelings, then, in order to avoid conflicts, you can try to reduce the use of “no” in your conversations with your children while still keeping to your point. It's not that easy, as the automatic “NO” is always there and the first word to pop into your head. Also, once I started paying attention I was quite surprised to see how the first word that I used was very often “NO...”.
What to Say Instead of "No"
So it took some time and dedication in order to change the framework of our conversations and to find an alternative way of getting my message across.
Here are some of the phrases that have developed during the experiment and have been tested with varying degrees of success. Instead of "NO", try:
- Yes, you can go / do ... as soon as you finish reading / cleaning ...
- What do you think is the best way to plan this time so that you and I get what we want?
- Listen, I understand you very well and would also like to watch TV / play football / stare at the wall all day (pause) ... Now we will write / read / ...
- Unfortunately, this option does not suit us right now, let's think about what we can do instead.
-Listen, I see that you don’t want to do what I asked. I understand you and sometimes annoy myself, because as a parent I need to be given difficult and boring tasks that I don't want to do.
Of course. it is important to pay attention not only to the words you say but to the intonation and non-verbal language. The more calm, confident and firm your tone is, the more willingly a young person (and not only a young one) perceives it.
Just remember that any change takes time and nothing happens at once. Of course, I still say "no", but slowly we are moving in the right direction and looking for joint solutions and compromises. I respect his interests and he is much better in keeping up with my instructions. And yes, this joint-search for solutions takes much longer than that simple "NO". However, in my experience it is very much worth it.