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Dealing With Refusals


What do you do when your child says NO?
When he digs in his heels and refuses to move – how can you make him comply?
When she throws her homework on the ground and stands on it – how do you get through?
When your child has outgrown the toddler stage (but still seems to react at that developmental level) how can you, as a parent, employ best practices to let your child know that refusals don’t work?

(1) Choose your battles
In the grand scheme of things, how important is this? If it’s very important, if it relates to a vital social or life skill, follow through! If you need to get something done quickly, and this is unrelated to a big picture skill, maybe you can let this one go. Breathe… and focus on the main things.

(2) Be consistent
While this sounds like a direct contradiction to the idea of choosing your battles, it isn’t. Consistency is about having the exact same expectation every time. Once you choose what is important – run with it! If your child is allowed to opt out of some things on some days, then one day you expect that they’ll participate every time, you’ve sent mixed messages and you’re likely to end up with refusal. What do you expect your child to do? Bare minimum could be (part of) homework, some form of helping around the house and participation in family activities. Education, contributing to the family and being part of the group are all vital for healthy development. 

(3) State your expectations
Brevity is key! Use as few words as possible, stating (a) What you expect, (b) When you expect it to happen, and (c) The consequence for it not happening within that period of time.

Imagine your child is asked to put his shoes on to go to school, but he is watching TV instead. You’ve asked him, you know he knows what to do – he’s just not doing it. You could get angry and yell, “You never put your shoes on when I ask! How many times do I have to tell you?” Or, you could casually walk over to the television and turn it off. Look at your child and say, “I expect you to put on your shoes in the next 3 minutes, and if you don’t, there will be no TV when you get home from school.” Set a timer, and walk away. Also, feel free to add the caveat that if he turns to TV back on once you walk away, there will be no TV for a week 🙂

Whatever you do, be brief.

(4) Keep emotions out of it
Take a breath, have a consequence already planned out and keep that consequence realistic. Confidently and calmly, tell your child your expectations without raising your voice or having an angry tone. Believe it or not, you can get a lot of results from using a calm, assertive tone. Being self-assured and confident shows that you’re in charge – yelling and getting flustered shows your child that she’s controlling the situation.

How do we stay calm? Breathe deeply, take a break and model the same self regulation exercises that you expect your child to use. Monitor your stress levels in general – are your mind and body connected? Take a moment to recalibrate your system.

(5) Natural and related consequences
When you’re giving your child a consequence, ensure that it has something to do with the situation. For example, if the child hits somebody at the park, a related consequence would be leaving the park and maybe not coming back tomorrow. An unrelated consequence would be losing iPad time. If your child refuses to eat their dinner, a related consequence would be losing dessert and firmly stating that they’re not going to get a different meal later on. An unrelated consequence would be taking away their bedtime story. On that note, try to keep bedtime stories/relationship based activities separate to consequences. By playing for 10 minutes a day (no matter what) or reading before bed, you are showing that your devotion to your child is unconditional to their behavior.

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