What To Do When Kids Say “No!”

The joys of parenthood can take a drastic turn once your kids are old enough to express a NO. And no, this doesn’t take too long to arrive at. In fact, by the time your gurgling, happy cherubs are 8 months old, they have already learned how to purse their lips and turn their heads away in disdain when you try feeding them those mashed carrots and bananas!

And what starts there goes on and on and on – a never-ending saga of “No’s” that becomes the nightmare of most parents, until, well until they actually get used to the fact that no matter what, the first reaction of their kids is probably going to be an emphatic NO.

Much to the envy of others, there are some parents who seem to face a lot less resistance from their kids. Murphy’s law would probably say that the greater the tantrum your own kids are throwing, the more angelic a neighbor’s kids are likely to be, especially when the whole world is watching you. Yes, life is unfair.

But think about it, is there a way to train children to be more receptive and accepting, and less belligerent and negative? Here are some tips you should consider when you meet the big NO:

Are YOU saying too many big NOs?

Children learn first from their parents. When you are at the receiving end of too much resistance, a good thing to do is to sit back with a nice cup of tea/coffee when the kids go to sleep, and ponder whether you have been too much of a naysayer to your kids. “Of course, but all my NO’s were absolutely necessary and for their own good!” Really? Be honest to yourself and ask if you could have done without most of those NOs that you delivered.

Reason it out

Most of the times, our No’s are unsubstantiated. That is, we say a big, firm NO, and don’t bother explaining “Why not?”

Seems like a good reason why kids display the same irrationality?

Next time the children say No, start by asking why. Oftentimes, kids don’t have a reason for saying No – it is just a whim or a mental block. At other times, you may find that their reasons are based on genuine misunderstandings that could be easily cleared with some patience and explanations!

And reasoning out the No’s is a good exercise for your own selves as well…remember, children are a lot less prejudiced than us adults!

Give an alternative

Ok, so they said No to the chapati-subzi dinner tonight. Go with the flow and see. Perhaps there is an alternative that might be more acceptable? Think what can be done to tweak the same plate of flatbread and veggies to make it different. Put your creative caps on.

Make a burrito by adding a dash of mayonnaise in it? Or try a quesadilla with the same veggies covered in grated, melting cheese (my kids will even carry a leftover chapati to school if it’s a quesadilla!) Point is, look for an alternative.You’ll be surprised how easily acceptable your ideas become.

Deflect the topic of contention

When at loggerheads, it is wiser to just put off the argument to a later date/time. Use deflection as a powerful tool here...Changing the topic takes away their attention from the most immediate “resistance mode” which they are in. When you come back to it at a later time, kids are calmer and better able to focus on the logic you offer.


Many a times, no reason nor alternative is good enough. Take medicines for example. They have to gulp it means they have to gulp it. And let’s face it, who hasn’t gone through the torment of disgusting syrups and painful, scary jabs in their childhood? So, the best thing to do is to offer a little something in return… Maybe an extra half hour of playtime in the evening, or a lovely scoop of their favourite ice cream for dessert. And there could be negative incentives as well, if the positive ones do not do the trick.

Don’t feel guilty or weak in using incentives where they are absolutely necessary. Some things just need to get done – by hook or by crook.

Use an Anecdote

As parents, we have the artistic license to get creative with our stories and explanations… Design your own moral fables of “the little boy who said No,” or “the silly rabbit who wouldn’t listen.” If pictures speak a thousand words, stories speak ten thousand, and in much less!

Establish a code of Parental Authority

One of the most unpleasant things that kids do really well is to shake their heads most determinedly when it matters most to parents that they listen.

For instance, you want them to stand in the queue for a moment so you can walk over and pick up an important document from the other counter. But that is the time they refuse point blank to accommodate your request, and your only option is to leave the line, get your forms, and rejoin at the very end again, with a cranky kid dogging your heels. And you’re so angry you want to whack junior then and there till he cries.

Yeah, it’s one of those moments you wonder why for the love of God did you sign up for parenthood! At such moments, what helps is if you have a red flag alert – an express code you have to establish beforehand, which signifies that the Alpha Parent in you is taking over and you mean BUSINESS! This code could be a word “Enough!”, or a change in your tone, or a subtle action (raising the eyebrows, or a warning finger), or even a look (works well in older kids) that implies that “This is it, enough’s enough, and you better cease your disobedience or else there will be serious consequences to face.”

It takes a while to establish the precise rules of this code and to make them follow it. But keep this “Danger” button ready and make your kids know it well. It’s a fail safe that works even by being alerted to.

Accept the No

Last, but perhaps the most neglected, is our need to sometimes give in to the No that kids tell us, and let them have their way. This needs a lot of discretion to practice, but it helps put a lot of things into perspective.

When having an argument with kids, pause before your brain overheats and short circuits. Consider perhaps, do they have a point in saying No? As parents, we get conditioned into thinking that whatever we say or do is the only right approach and that our kids must follow it unquestioningly. Do not close your mind.

Kids are miniature adults and are capable of much rational thinking than we give them credit for. Maybe it is a good time to allow them to have their way (if it doesn’t harm them), and let them find out for themselves?

Who knows, you might find out a thing or two about yourselves instead!!!

So, be a wise parent and teach (and learn) to tackle those No’s in the best possible way.


Article Credits – Bhavani Rajesh