What To Do When Your Child Says “No!”

It almost seems as if defiance has become a rite of passage for children and adolescents. All too often children refuse to do what parents ask them to do and this can lead to tremendous stress in families. Fortunately, parents can stop a pattern of defiance and negativity in children with a few simple strategies:

Stay cool even if your child is getting angry and upset. Rather than “fueling the fire” by responding with strong emotions, stay calm and restate your expectations in a clear, concise way.

Using rewards is an effective way to promote positive behaviors. Rewards are not the same as bribes so parents can feel comfortable rewarding and praising positive child behavior. It is important to talk with your child about the types of rewards that will be most meaningful for him/her because rewards that are not motivating for your child will not work to change his/her behavior.

When consequences are needed for defiant behavior, make sure they are reasonable and enforceable. For instance, grounding your teenager for the rest of the semester may seem like a good idea when you’re angry but keep in mind that it will probably be difficult to enforce grounding for that long and it may lead to more arguments at home than it is worth.

Focus on your child’s behavior rather than on the whining/complaining that may accompany the compliance. That is, if a child is saying, “But I don’t want to…it’s not fair…why do I have to do it?” while he/she is proceeding to follow directions by cleaning up the bedroom, taking out the trash, or emptying the dishwasher, ignore the complaining. When the behavior is complete, praise your child and appreciate his/her efforts rather than saying anything about the whining that accompanied it.

Establish clear rules and expectations for your child. It is particularly important to be specific in your expectations for your child’s behavior. If you tell a child that he has to do his homework but you don’t say that it has to be done by a certain time or before he turns on the television, it is not necessarily non-compliance. Your child needs to know exactly what is expected of him/her in order for it to be completed in the way you would like.

Offer options whenever possible. If you have several tasks that you would like your child to do, offer all of them and ask, “Which one would you like to do first?” or “Would you like to do this before or after you have dinner?” Often, just being offered a choice in task or timing of the task can lead to more compliance.

Although every child will exhibit at least mildly defiant behaviors at times, parental use of the strategies described above will likely go a long way toward promoting more consistent compliance by children and ultimately strengthening family relationships.

Kelly H. Theis, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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