Taking “No” for an Answer

No one really likes to ask for something and hear, “No” for an answer, but real life provides that experience relentlessly, so it is a condition that children must be prepared for.

In infancy, we must not tell infants ‘no’ to anything. If they are hungry, we must feed them, if cold, keep them warm, if scared, comfort them, if dirty, clean them, and so on. Young babies must also have their needs met without question. They must be allowed to eat, sleep, play, rest, snuggle, or fuss when they need to.

However, as soon as a child gets somewhat mobile, we need to start telling him, “No.” No, you can’t touch the Christmas tree, No, you can’t pull the doggie’s ears, No, you can’t put that in your mouth. “No” becomes a regular part of a parent’s vocabulary. To lessen the impact of all those “No’s” on a youngster, we generally “kid-proof” the house so there aren’t so many things lying about that we have to deny them.

But when a child becomes ambulatory and can reach everything that’s 2 feet off the ground, here come more “No’s.” No, you can’t touch the stereo, No, you can’t grab my glass of juice, No, you can’t touch older sister’s homework. Their little sponge-like brain soaks up all those “No’s” and starts to get the message that there are some things they can have and some things they can’t have, and it makes them really angry and upset that there are some things they can’t have, and so they CRY!

This is where the temper tantrum begins as a behavior. The youngster is so upset that he is no longer the center of the universe and he is being denied his every wish and whim and frankly, that’s upsetting. It’s an adjustment he has to make, and it’s an unpleasant one at that. However, it is totally necessary. A two-year-old needs to begin to learn that not everything is for him and he has to be told “No.”

This is also where parents generally start to make their first parenting mistakes – by giving in to the tantrums. They can’t stand to see the child so upset, so they go ahead and give him whatever they just said he can’t have. The child gets what he wants, settles down, and everyone’s happy – or so the parent thinks.

The child may be happy temporarily, but he won’t be happy long-term, because he still hasn’t learned how to take ‘No” for an answer and the world is most certainly not going to give in to temper tantrums. When a child’s tantrums aren’t extinguished, they continue for their whole life.

Teenager’s temper tantrums take the form of punching holes in walls or raising a fist to mamma. Adult’s temper tantrums take the form of aggressive threatening, stealing, or even rape. Temper tantrums start at about 18 months and they will continue forever if they are not appropriately dealt with when they begin.

To deal effectively with temper tantrums, it’s okay to comfort the upset child without giving in to him. You can be sympathetic that he’s sad he can’t have another cookie. You can hug and hold him while he cries that he can’t take his little brother’s toy, but you just can’t give them the thing that you told him he can’t have.

The child will learn that he can survive being told, “No,” and that he can comfort himself and that he can go on with his life in search of other “Yes” answers.

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