When a child hates the sound of no: Parenting ODD

We often think of defiant behavior as a problem for those parenting ODD children, but no child likes to hear the word “No.” Even adults don’t like when they aren’t able to do or have something they want. When adults ask for time off at work or for a better deal at a store, they expect to be told “Yes” and will occasionally argue to avoid the “No” answer. So if it’s difficult for adults, then we can understand how difficult it must be for children to accept a “no” answer when they don’t yet have the skills to remain calm or the developmental capability to consistently make positive decisions. And although we should try to redirect and say “Yes” to our children as often as we can, we can’t always say “Yes”. Our children will hear “No” frequently and they need to learn the skill of accepting “No” at home and when interacting with peers and authority figures.

Some children will struggle more when told “No” than other children will. An oppositional child who hates the sound of “No” could include a boy or girl who likes to complete tasks on their own, one who struggles with disappointment, or has extreme difficulty in sharing. It is also normal at certain developmental stages for children to test the boundaries. This often appears first in the “terrible twos” as they begin to understand rules and their limits. Testing boundaries is healthy and children feel safe as they learn about the boundaries around them. Children may also test new boundaries as they gain more independence. Certain personality types and developmental stages may make accepting a “No” answer more difficult, but it does not mean it is impossible for these children to learn how to respond appropriately. It just takes some teaching and time focused on reinforcing the skill.

Accepting a “NO” Answer

Using the skill of Preventive Teaching, you can teach your child steps of how to behave correctly when told “No.” When a child learns what they should do in a difficult situation then they will be able to replace the negative behavior with something positive. Following Instructions and Accepting a “No” answer were the two most common skills I taught to children in their homes, and these two skills solved the majority of the parent/child conflict and defiant behavior. When teaching how to accept “No”, include at least these 4 steps:

  1. Get your child’s attention and have them look at you.
  2. Tell them “No” calmly.
  3. The child says “Okay” and does not ask again.
  4. Child finds something else to do to distract from being told “No.”

You may also need to include a step about calming down before they say “Okay” if they become angry easily. After teaching the steps, show them how to use the skill and then practice AT LEAST four times, ensuring that they are able to use the skill correctly. Give positive and negative feedback (if necessary) in between each role-play.

Teaching how to accept a “No” answer is a great start to helping your child remain calm when they don’t like to hear “No”, but you must also reinforce the skill so that your child will begin using it regularly. Continue to role-play the skill sporadically throughout the day. You can also look for opportunities to say “no” to your child for small, less significant questions and then give part of what they want back when they are able to use the skill correctly. Then when they are able to remain calm when told “No” you will start adding in times where your answer does not change even though they responded appropriately. It also helps reduce defiance in children to establish a reward system, such as a sticker chart or marble jar, when first teaching the skill so your child is motivated to use the skill to earn a larger reward. Tangible rewards will reduce to praise statements as they show more success and implementation of the skill. Remind your child that they don’t need to be happy when they are told “No”, and will often feel disappointment when initially told “No”, but that responding appropriately will ultimately give them more “yes” answers in the future because you are more willing to help them receive what they want when they can calmly accept an answer they don’t like.

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