What To Do When Your Child Says No

child ignoring parent talking

It’s hard when your child refuses to do what you’ve asked. You may feel backed into a corner, powerless, and forced to give increasingly severe punishments to get them to do as you’ve said.

Some children outright refuse. Others completely ignore you or pretend they haven’t heard.

It’s tempting to give up and just do it yourself. You might ask yourself if it’s worth making a fuss about, particularly if they’re creating a scene. But allowing your child to ignore or refuse to do as you ask encourages them to keep doing it in the future. 

So what can you do to tackle this challenging behaviour?

What to do if your child ignores you

First, check if your child is choosing to ignore you or they just didn’t hear or listen properly. 

Turn off any distractions, like TV and computer games, and start the instruction with their name to catch their attention. 

If you’re sure your child is ignoring your instruction, you can make it clear to them they need to do what you’ve asked straight away. The phrase, “When you do this, then you can do that,” is useful.

For example:

  • When you make your bed, then you can play with your toys.
  • When you put your plate in the dishwasher, then you can watch TV.
  • When you ask me politely, then you can have a treat to eat.

This approach can work well if your child tries to give a response like, “I’ll do it later,” or, “I’m just finishing this first”. It’s a subtle reminder that they can get the job done quickly and then do something they enjoy.

Parent giving child instructions

What to do if your child refuses to do as you’ve asked

Giving limited choices is a helpful way to let your child feel they have a say in decisions while keeping you firmly in control of the situation. 

You might ask them:

  • Are you going to tidy your bedroom before or after lunch?
  • Would you like peas or sweetcorn with dinner?
  • Shall we drive or walk to your childminder’s house?

Limited choices work best when your child has just two options to choose between. Make sure you are happy with whichever choice they decide.

Consequences when they say no

If you’ve asked your child to do something and they either refuse or just ignore you, you can give them a consequence for making this choice. 

Give them one warning and tell them what the consequence will be if they don’t do as you’ve asked. If you give lots of second chances and warnings, it tells your child that they don’t need to do as you’ve asked straight away.

A good consequence is:

  • Time limited: They may lose something for an hour, or an afternoon, rather than for weeks or forever
  • Proportionate: You might take away one toy, but not remove them all
  • Not a physical punishment: This can teach your child that physical behaviour is acceptable

Be consistent with consequences. If you sometimes give your child a consequence for a behaviour, but other times don’t, it’s confusing for them. Not being consistent can cause more tension and arguments.

When you give your child a consequence, emphasise that they have made a choice, and they can choose to behave differently next time. You could use the phrase, “Because you chose,” to explain their decision, such as saying, “Because you chose not to put your toys away when I asked, you can’t watch your favourite show.”

Staying positive

Stay calm and polite even though you might feel angry or frustrated by your child’s behaviour. Avoid labelling them as “bad” or “naughty”. Every child makes mistakes sometimes.

You can show empathy and understanding while remaining firm with your decision. You might say, “I know you feel upset because you’ve lost your screen time. Next time you need to do what I’ve asked.” 

Your child shouldn’t feel like they’re always being told off and in trouble. If they hear lengthy lectures all the time, they’ll switch off and stop listening to you. Rather than saying what they should stop or not do, focus on what you want them to do and praise them when they do the right thing.

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