Saying ‘No’ To Your Child!

Everyone has to learn to live within limits, and it is best when children learn it young. Accepting ‘no’ as an answer teaches children the valuable skill of denying access to achild with "no" sign reinforcer. This is also known as ‘contentment.’ Oftentimes a child develops problem behavior that has been maintained by a history of obtaining preferred items or activities. They may have many manipulative techniques to challenge a ‘no’ answer, including screaming, biting, bolting, flopping and self-injury. If you see these behaviors in your kids, the following DOs and DON’Ts will be of some assistance.

What not to do if the child emits problem behavior when told ‘no’

•Do NOT Give your child what s/he wants

•Do NOT Negotiate with your child

•Do NOT Offer other items

•Do NOT Attend to the problem behavior

If you are doing any of these things, your child will likely continue to react negatively when told ‘no.’

What to do when your child does not obey the ‘no’

• Do Practice! Practice! Practice!

•Do Begin with less preferred items/activities and when the child asks for it, say “no”

  • Make the task easy at first so the child can experience the reinforcer and be successful
  • When the child can accept no for less preferred items/activities, gradually move on to more preferred items/activities.

Depending on where your child is developmentally, social stories may be of some assistance.

•Do Develop a social story that explains how your child can demonstrate “accepting no,” and read it with him/her on a daily basis.

•Do Break up the day into time periods in which your child may earn a reward for demonstrating the “skill of the month.”

• If the learner (child) complains or emits problem behavior, simply go on to other activities

  • Remove all attention for the problem behavior except to protect

• If the behavior continues, tell him/her, “Let me know when you are ready” and “wait him out”

  • Do NOT give the child what s/he wants while complaining or engaging in inappropriate behavior
  • Do NOT offer an alternative

• If your child does not complain or exhibit other problem behavior, provide praise!

The idea is to reinforce “Accepting Behavior”.  If you find that you continuously have trouble getting your child to accept the word ‘no’, seek a professional Behavior Analyst for help.

2 replies
  1. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    I enjoyed reading this article, but would appreciate some additional explanation of the terms used by the author which I am unfamilar with. Can you please help me better understand the following terms:
    * Denying access to a reinforcer/contentment
    * Social stories
    * Develop a social story
    Thank you,

    • Benny
      Benny says:

      A reinforcer is any activity, food, or item that someone desires that increases the likelihood that a specific behavior will occur in the future when presented with that activity, food, or item. For example, a child receives a hug when he or she asks for one. If the frequency of “hug-requesting behavior” increases, the hug can be seen as reinforcing “hug-requesting behavior.” If however, “hug-requesting behavior” does not increase the hug cannot be considered reinforcing. Any time we are told “no” when requesting something we want then we have to “deny access to a reinforcer”. This can be challenging for some and may be a skill that has to be developed and taught.

      Instead of contentment, another terminology that can be used is “being flexible”. At times we all have to experience not getting what we want. We may even have some subtle coping skills that help us get through those moments. For example, some of us talk to ourselves, chew gum, or tap our feet, etc. A young child or an individual at a lower developmental level may not have these skills to help them cope or “be flexible”. This is where tools such as the social story may be helpful. A social story is a short story developed to describe specific skills and situations that can assist the learner in understanding certain social perspectives and cues which may lead to more effective responses. If a reinforcement system is applied with the social story then we can increase the “more effective responses”.

      I hope this helped to clarify some of the terms you asked about. Thanks for your question!


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