Written by Doctor G

“No” is not an option

My four and a half year old daughter is usually quite agreeable and cooperative. We’ve never had any real behavior issues with her, but in the past few weeks she has been kind of surly and quick to defy me when I ask her to do something. Usually she will come around in the end, after some prodding, but I would like her to understand that saying “no” when I ask her to help around the house or get herself ready to go is not OK. I’m wondering if you have any ideas about what I could do to help shape this behavior? It seems like she is a little bit old for time outs and I don’t want to make idle threats, but I do want to curb this behavior quickly, before it becomes a habit!

~Erin, in Astoria, NY

A: You’re right Erin. “No” at this age is not a good answer. An honest one, sure, but she needs to learn to do what you’ve asked her to do without debate. For everyone who is cringing at my autocratic suggestion, more on that in future posts but the quick reason is this – kids need to learn the rule before you can allow the exceptions to the rule.
So to build the “Yes, Mom” habit, first decide on the answer you want. It might be “Yes Mom” or it might be “purple kangaroos” but decide on it and explain it once to your daughter. Let her know that not doing this will result in a consequence. Then when you ask her to do something and she says “No” stop, make eye contact with her and say your phrase in the tone of voice you want her to use. If she stares at you like you have grown a new head, say “Yes Mom or time out?”
Now she needs to do two things to avoid a time out (which is a totally reasonable consequence for most 6 and unders). She needs to say your phrase (politely!) and then do the thing you asked. THEN she can ask or debate or question your deeper motivation for drinking that latte on that couch while she slaves away picking up All. Her. Toys. Make mine decaf, please.

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5 thoughts on ““No” is not an option”

  1. Dr. G mentions that a time out is a reasonable consequence for 6 and under…is it not a recommended tactic for kids over 6, and if so, why not?

  2. Some kids over age 6 look at “time out” as too babyish and will spend the whole time being angry about being treated like a baby and so miss the lesson you are hoping to teach. If time out still works at your house that is great. For older kids, though, “separation” is still a valuable consequence, especially following rude behavior. I need you to be someplace else for a while and then rejoin the group ready to participate in a better way. Just don’t send them to their room – you might never see them again! Starting in middle elementary school, losing a privelege is usually a more meaningful consequence.

  3. Excellent points – and “separation” can work for my 9 and 8 y.o., but I do take care not to call it a time out! Thanks for the response:)

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