Saying “No” and Negotiating with Parents
By the time your little one is five to seven years old, he has become self-aware. That is to say that he knows that he is an identity that is separate and distinct . . . not just a part of you; the parent. By that age, he has also begun to assert some control. He seeks to reinforce that he is a unique identity and can therefore choose behaviors and outcomes that most accurately reflect his individuality and autonomy. What do you do when you ask your son to do something and he tells you “no” or proposes to negotiate with you on the performance of the task?
First, remain calm. Do not become angered.
Second, acknowledge that your son is maturing (even though it may not look like it at the moment).
Third, if circumstances permit, explain the reason(s) that your request should be obeyed. “Because I said so” is not an appropriate reason. Appropriate reasons may include the following:
- I want you to clean your room because it is messy. If you don’t clean your room, bugs may be attracted to the crackers and other food items I’ve seen strewn on your floor. You don’t really want a bug-infested room, do you? Besides, the bugs wouldn’t just stay in your room, they’d spread out over the house. Your dad and I certainly don’t want bugs in the house. It’s not healthy or sanitary. Aside from the bug issue, your messy room makes it hard for you to access your toys and clothes. How long has it been since you saw your little metal cars? Also, some of your freshly washed clothes end up piled on your floor, and then they get dirty before you ever wear them. Do you see why it’s important to keep your room clean?
- I want you to set the table for dinner because that’s your responsibility. In this house, we all have our responsibilities, don’t we? If we all stopped living up to our responsibilities, then what would happen? In order for this family to work well together, we all have to contribute. Does this make sense to you?
It does bear noting that circumstances may not always permit such explanation. For example, if your request is urgent in nature, you may need to be more blunt, “If you don’t put down that kitty, she will bite you! She is hissing! Put her down NOW!”
Fourth, if circumstances permit, negotiate with your son. For example, you may say, “If you are growing tired of being responsible for setting the table for dinner each evening, we can trade tasks. I clear the dishes after dinner: would you rather do that task instead? We can just switch tasks, if you’d like.”
Finally, it’s important to validate your son’s maturation (i.e., his growing self-awareness and desire for control) while still maintaining adequate parental control. There may be times when your response to your son’s persistent “no’s” or attempts at negotiation may ultimately result in redirection. Redirection can include time-outs, temporarily removing access to toys or games, grounding, etc.
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