Does the ‘No!!’ really mean ‘No’?

When you hear No, it’s important to not take it personally, says Todd Sarner, a Bay Area parenting counsellor and mentor. Here he shares advice on dealing with a defiant child


Get connected
Children often say no as a knee-jerk reaction or because they feel defensive simply because they do not feel connected to you.
‘Make it part of your family culture to greet each other warmly’ advises Sarner. This sets up a relationship with your child where they have an increased sense of attachment to you so are less likely to feel they need to be defiant.

Set rules
Defiance, or refusing to do something a parent wants or needs them to do, can be a sign of children not knowing the rules.
Setting clear rules like ‘We don’t hit, we don’t talk that way’ and making sure the whole family is in agreement is important.
Other defiant behaviour in young children can be a sign of separation anxiety, says Sarner, who recommends the best solution to an ongoing fight such as not getting dressed for school in time, is simply to agree on a new routine: ‘You say “Every night, we are going to decide on what your clothes are and that is going to be it.”
For pre-K or kindergarteners, saying No might just be a sign that they have not reached the brain development stage where they can focus on two things at once. ‘If a child is focused visually on something, they tend not to hear you,’ says Sarner. ‘.. it’s because that part of their brain has not come online yet.’

Allow some freedom
Sarner says it’s also important to remember that saying No can be a sign that children are working things out for themselves. ‘Be careful of saying “You have to” or “You must” and being forceful in your tone. When a child is already defiant, that doesn’t work because they just dig in their heels more.’
‘Children need emotional space to figure out who they are, whether they are kindergarteners or adolescents,’ he says. ‘They will tend to come back to your family’s values and beliefs but need to know that they came to that conclusion themselves.’
Instead, Sarner encourages parents to give children more opportunities to exercise their own will, by being responsible for things or more creative.

See Todd Sarner talking more on Dealing with Defiance