Welcome to Tea & Tips, where we respond to burning questions from parents and educators — taking aim on one topic at a time, guiding you to improve communication, confidence and calm. Today's question: What do I do when my kid has a hard time hearing the word "no"?
Diane: So one of the questions we always get...
Elaine: A lot
Diane: ...is kids who have a hard time with the word, "no."
Elaine: Yeah, that trigger reaction that people get. Kids and adults.
Diane: Yeah, that's true.
Elaine: I call it the "knee-jerk no."
Diane: Right. And they do it to everything.
Elaine: "Will you do this?"
Diane: So chances are there are two things that might be going on there. Part of it is that your kid might be triggered, and we talk a lot about trigger management. And then the other piece of it is that it's a transition issue; so, that a child has something in their mind they're planning to do and they're going a million miles an hour, thinking about getting it done, and then you say, "Please do this," and it's like –
Diane: Stop! No! So it's really a transition issue.
Elaine: So what do you do about it?
Diane: So, what's really going on underneath it, for a lot of these kids, is a need for feeling more in control.
Elaine: Yeah. Or there's an anxiety about, "I don't know if I can or want to or be able to."
Diane: And just so you know, when we say that, it might not look like that at all. An anxious kid doesn't look like an anxious kid. And so the solution is really to stay in that place of curiosity and go, "What's really going on for my kid right now? What is it about hearing the word 'no' that's hard?" Get clear on that and then maybe try a code word?
Elaine: Well, yeah, before code word here's the other thing I would add is, when you get curious about it is to really try to figure out as you look underneath it: is this control? Is this anxiety? Is it just that I'm interrupting them and they're in the middle of something and they'll get to it later. Is it really a "no," or is it I caught them and I need to address this conversation differently? And it's going to show up in different ways. And then code words.
Diane: Code words are about just agreeing to use some other different word and with "no," the one you always taught was "bubble gum," right?
Elaine: "Bubble gum" was, "I'm about to tell you something you're not going to want to hear."
Diane: "So take a deep breath."
Elaine: And when they heard "bubble gum," they knew, they sort of braced themselves for what was next. So a code word is about agreeing in advance to a term you're going to use to influence the behavior.
Diane: And manage through a difficult situation.