3 Tips to Help Children Handle 'NO'


How in the world do you teach children to accept ‘no’? While this is not always an easy task, these tips will surely help if you use them!

no, temper, tantrum, meltdown, choice boards
My friend, Lisette, over at Speech Sprouts, asked what I did to help kids understand and accept 'no'. It takes a lot of work and very few 2-3 year-olds will easily accept 'no' for something they truly want! But there are some strategies you can use to help kids start moving along the path to accepting ‘no.’

Don’t ask a yes/no question! Give choices instead.


Be careful how you word your questions! Asking a child, “Do you want A ?” implies that you are asking them for their wishes. This leaves it open for them to say, “No, I want B.” when B is not an option. Then you have to say “No.”

Instead, try “Today we have A or B. Which one do you want?” While some kids will then reply, “I want C!” this leaves it open for you to say, “I like C, too, but today we get to pick from A or B.”  You notice that this response did not include the ‘N’ word! Sometimes just hearing that word sets some kids off!


Choice Boards

To do this visually, use a choice board! Visuals are important to help kids see the choices, even for verbal kids. They don't have to be fancy, just a 'no' item and 2 choices on plain paper.

* While they see the 'no’ symbol, they also see that there will be other choices available. 


* Without the visual, they will hear the 'no' and can have a meltdown before processing the other choices.


Carefully Sequence the Options

First, help your students understand 'no' (whether visually or verbally) in the context of structured activities where it doesn't have an emotional impact. Then build up to hearing ‘no’ when it actually is something that the child wants, after they have seen that there will be other options that are good, even if not their #1 choice.

Note: Some students may just not be able to handle ‘no’ for various reasons, but don’t make the mistake of giving in to tantrums or outbursts by giving them what they want! As painful as it can be to out wait a sobbing or screaming child, you will only be making it more likely that it will continue if you give in!

Work a deliberate sequence of choices into your daily routines, but don't start with your kids' most favorite choices. Here is one way it could be done.

Make the ‘NO’ choice a 'no' for someone else.


See this picture? I  never had a kid get upset when they couldn't feed a make-believe chocolate cookie in shoebox play. It is great practice for realizing that sometimes there is another choice that is okay. To read more about this, click here

Try out this step by step way, saving saying 'no' to their favorite choice being used only after your child is realizing that 'no' is not necessarily the end of the world. If they react with a meltdown, divert their attention if possible and go back to the last successful step the next day.


Note that the pictures are about cookies, but you can try this with toys, activities, or other favorites, too!


1. Make the ‘NO’ choice something that the child doesn’t like.

1. Make the ‘NO’ choice something that the child doesn’t like.

This is a great place to start for kids who just react to the word. Hearing ’no’ gets a bit of desensitization when it is used for something unwanted.

2. Make the ‘NO’ one of 3 equally liked choices.

2. Make the ‘NO’ one of 3 equally liked choices.

Switch them around from day to day just to help your child see that sometimes we run out of their favorites, or to learn that variety can be fine. Try these variations.


3. Make the ‘NO’ be the 2nd favorite.

3. Make the ‘NO’ be the 2nd favorite.
     
Have the favorite available, along with another choice your child likes.

4. Make the ‘NO’  be their favorite choice.


4. Make the ‘NO’  be their favorite choice.
Have the 2nd favorite available.
It also helps to have an empty chocolate chip cookie bag available for the child to see that there are no cookies in it. This can make settling for 2nd choice easier.

5. Build sabotage into your daily routines!

One day the crayon box can be empty, so kids have to choose from markers or colored pencils instead.

One day, the Lego basket is empty, so they have to choose a different building toy instead.

One day, the box of their favorite cereal is empty, so they have to eat something different.

You get the idea! Learning that there are changes and new choices to be made in life is tough learning for little ones, especially anxious little ones! But by presenting it in a way where there are positive outcomes as well as negative ones, many children can start to take it in better stride.  No miracles, just slow, hard work.

Good luck! How did this work for you?

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