- Psychological Issues
I think a lot of parents feel it’s important to explain their reasoning to their children in an attempt to get them to understand. Realize that along the way, wanting your child to understand can easily shift into wanting their approval, or their acceptance of your reasons. When this happens, parents can get stuck in a dynamic where they’re over-explaining things to their children. I personally think that once you’ve given your child a reasonable amount of input, any further explanation defeats the purpose.
Have you fallen into the habit of over-explaining and over-negotiating with your kids? If so, it’s likely that every time your child wants to challenge your authority, decision, or rule, you keep talking to him in order to get him to understand why you’ve made the rule in the first place. And often as your child gets older, you’ll find yourself compromising some more and changing the rules a little more. Understand that what you’re really doing is training your child not to accept the rules. Don’t forget, if you tell your child “No, you can’t do that now,” and he keeps bugging you—and then you end up giving in and letting him do it—you’ve just trained him not to listen to you.
Let’s look at the reverse. If you wanted to train your child how to not accept no for an answer, how would you do it? First, when you said “no,” you’d encourage your child to keep challenging your authority, the consequences they’ve been given, or the responsibilities they have. You would also keep explaining your reasons to your child over and over. Then at some point, you’d give in and reward him with a bit (or all) of what he’s asking for. So you can see that many parents are training their children to challenge them without even knowing it.
So what should you do when you set limits and your child gets angry? I think it’s important to define what setting limits means: in my opinion, it could mean anything from establishing a curfew, to saying the “TV goes off at eight o’clock.” In effect, your child experiences those limits as being told “no.” Some kids get angry when they’re told no, and they manage that anger by demanding an explanation from their parents. They might say, “It’s not fair,” and start to act up—they take it out on you.
Things can often escalate into a shouting match. If you’re screaming at your child (and by the way I understand how easily that can happen) as far as he’s concerned, you’re on the same level as he is. You negate your own authority by yelling. Certainly, the first time you yell, your child might respond the way you want him to—and maybe even the second time. In fact, the first ten times he might respond. But the day is going to come where he just screams back at you. This keeps escalating until he breaks something or kicks the wall. In my opinion, getting into a shouting match usually doesn’t work, because your child just learns more aggressive ways to respond to you.
If a parent tells me their child won’t take “no” for an answer, my response to them is always, “If you reward that kind of behavior, then your “no” doesn’t really mean “no.” It means “keep trying.”
Parents have to be clear and honest with themselves about the reality of the situation if they have nurtured this “never take no for an answer” problem in their kids. If your child is pushing back when you say no, understand that up until now, you’ve watered and fed that behavior, and it grew. So to expect this behavior to change without any conflict is unrealistic. I believe you need to set limits and stick to them, while remembering that your child is not going to turn around their behavior in one day. If you’re only starting when he’s 15, remember that you’ve trained your child that you’re a pushover and that you don’t mean what you say. Once you inadvertently train your kids to believe that, it’s very hard to break that training.
These are hard patterns to turn around, but parents can do it. You have to come up with a game plan. That game plan should include what you’re going to do, how you want your child to act in any given situation, how to teach them to do it, how to respond to them if they get so overwhelmed they can’t do it, and how to set limits on that behavior. In my opinion, these are some of the basics of sound parenting.
Realize that this fight might take you six months or six years. But unless your child has some severe behavioral disorder, eventually most kids will turn around and start responding–that’s all there is to it.
No Means No: How to Teach Your Child That You Mean Business is reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents
Empowering Parents is a weekly newsletter, online magazine and parenting blog published by Legacy Publishing Company. Our goal is to empower people who parent by providing useful problem-solving techniques to parents and children. The views expressed in the articles on Empowering Parents represent the opinions of the authors and the experts quoted therein. Unfortunately, it’s not possible for us to respond to every question posted after an article on our website. Empowering Parents encourages its readers to participate by weighing in with suggestions and advice.
James Lehman is a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation Program for parents. He has worked with troubled teens and children for three decades. James holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University.