What can I do if my child always says “no”?

It’s a word that brings a lot of joy, as children realise they can choose whether or not to do what you say – but can get very tiring when it’s all you hear from them. Clear instructions and boundaries help children learn how to behave. These tips can help.

A young girl looking upset while being scolded by her mother

Give simple instructions

Making small changes to the way you give instructions helps your child to do what you ask. The first step is giving really simple instructions.

  • Be specific about what you want your child to do. For instance, rather than “be careful”, say “hold your cup with both hands”.
  • Say what you want them to start doing, rather than what you want them to stop doing.
  • Try to reduce the number of commands you give. It’s easier to do this when there are clear household rules that apply to everyone.
  • Use when-then commands. For example, “when you’ve hung up your coat, then you can have a snack”. This is useful because there’s a built-in consequence – they’ll lose the snack if they don’t hang up their coat.

Give choices and responsibility

“No” is an easy word to say, and is often one of the first that children learn. Try to create opportunities for them to give other answers.

  • Offer a choice between two options, for example, “would you like pasta or rice?”. It’s harder to say no to choices. It also gives children a sense of control. If you offer a choice, honour their decision.
  • Sometimes saying no is a learned behaviour. Do you often refuse your child’s requests? Why do you think that is? When it’s safe and reasonable, could you say yes more often?
  • If your child says no or ignores your request, check how you asked them. Was it a clear command, or a question? Are they used to you asking three times and shouting before they comply?
  • For teenagers, include them in picking a rewards system for completing tasks and chores: pocket money, for instance.
  • Your child might sometimes grumble but still do as asked. Praise them for doing it, and ignore the protests or back-chat.
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