I don’t know for sure, but if I had to guess this is the number one question parents have. What can I do to ensure my children will hear me and listen to me? The frustration of saying “no” and seeing a blank stare as your kid continues to do that thing you don’t want them to do is very real. It’s honestly infuriating and I have searched high and low for any advice I can find to get through those trying times.
I have been in many positions where I thought to myself, “If I locked him in his room he may think twice next time.” or “If I yell louder, just for a little scare, he’ll stop.” It is extremely tempting to bring in those severe consequences because it really does feel like the only option sometimes.
But if there are any parents who feel that guilt, that sense of this is feels off, when implementing these extremes, I am here to say, there is a better way to say no. There is totally a better way and it’s a way that you and your child can walk away from feeling proud and connected from any difficult situation that comes your way.
It seems impossible or gimmicky. On the outside, what I am going to tell you may sound like I am saying, “Let your kids do whatever they want” but I’m not.
In fact, setting boundaries, carrying out consequences, and being a leader for your children is so important for all of this. It is important that they learn to trust you to set these boundaries and stick to them no matter what may come their way.
HOW TO SAY “NO” SO YOUR KIDS WILL LISTEN
This is not necessarily an easy approach to take. Removing severe punishments from your home and implementing more respectful and peaceful ways of handling the tough stuff takes a lot of work for us parents. There are some things we have to let go of, standards we have to change within ourselves, and behaviors we need to redefine. There are so many opinions around kids who don’t listen, kids who get upset, and kids who are not exactly “normal.” We think of them as bad. It makes us think we’re bad when they engage in these behaviors. It’s embarrassing and we’ve been taught that these things need to be nipped in the bud ASAP.
So before you can even begin to effectively say “no,” you first need to let go of a few things in order to find confidence and assurance in yourself and your choices. That confidence will help you maintain this connection with your kids, even when people are watching (or worse, judging).
THINGS TO LET GO
TANTRUMS ARE NOT BAD | A big thing people say “no” to are tantrums, crying, etc. Those yucky reactions that express pain, discomfort, or unhappiness. So many of us have been taught to hide those very feelings and push them as far away as we can. We’ve learned that crying in public or being visibly upset is not polite and should never be seen.
I understand it’s stressful and it feels so wrong when your kid gets loud and upset. If it happens in public, in front of people looking at you, the pressure is on to quiet them down immediately, however you possibly can.
But kids are going to get upset. They NEED to feel safe in expressing that. If you want them to trust you and listen to you, you have to trust that when they express their feelings, they are expressing them the only way they can and exactly the way they need to. Besides any physical responses to emotions (hitting people or destroying things), I encourage you to start letting your kids express their emotions as loudly and passionately as they need to whenever you can. If you’re in public, simply take them to a more private spot. But no matter what, your life will be much easier if you allow them to cry or yell or whatever they need until they don’t need to any more. (If they insist on hitting, give them a pillow and let them know they can hit that as much as they want. They just can’t hit people.)
Their feelings may seem silly or small, but they are very real to our kids so please let them have them. Tantrums are really just the only way kids know how to express what they’re going through.
THEY’RE ALLOWED TO BE MAD AT US | Similar to above, we also need to allow our kids to tell us when they are upset about a boundary we’ve set. If they want a cookie but you don’t think it will be good for them in that moment, definitely let them know they can’t have the cookie, but then let them be upset about it.
If you’ve ever wanted anything in your life, you know it’s disappointing to not get it. What’s even more disappointing is not being able to vent about it. So let them vent. Let them be upset. It’s good for them to release those feelings. They need it. No, they don’t need the cookie and they’re not being bratty by getting upset about it. They need to be able to tell you they are upset about your “no.”
THEY’RE NOT ALWAYS GOING TO LISTEN | If you really think about, it’s not a kid’s job to listen. It’s their job to learn and with learning comes some pushing. They are suppose to push your boundaries as hard as they can in order to gain that security that you’re in charge and that you know what you’re doing. They need to push so they can feel free to explore and learn knowing that you are there to set the boundaries they so desperately need from us. Their lives are in your hands and they are fully aware of that so they want to make sure they can trust you to keep them safe.
So just know, they’re not always going to listen. They won’t always have the control to do so. They will sometimes have urges that are stronger than your rules and in those moments, they need understanding, compassion, and help to control those urges so they can learn to listen.
BUT THEY TRULY DO WANT TO MAKE YOU HAPPY | While I don’t believe it’s effecting to use your emotions, approval, disapproval, etc. as consequences for a child’s actions, it helps to know that deep down, even when it doesn’t seem like it, they do love us and they want nothing more than for us to love them back and be happy with what them.
Kid’s have very strong emotions. They have strong desires that drive them and these desires take turns at the forefront of their minds. They always have a desire to please us, but sometimes their desire to draw on the wall is stronger. In those moments, the worst thing you can do is make them feel like their actions can have any effect on your love for them. Showing them that you’re disappointed only sends the message of, “it’s possible for me to love you less.” Which truly will only make them push harder or worse, shut down their own desires all together and submit to your every word.
In every choice you make with your kids and how you handle them, always remember the number one thing they need from you is love and acceptance. This should never be a tool to use when they’re not listening. This should be a constant that never changes no matter how many boundaries they push.
I think changing your mindset towards certain behaviors is really what it takes. Realizing your kid isn’t a bad kid and understanding that these behaviors are normal and very expected helps to keep your nerves at bay when handling these tough situations.
All of that being said, here are some tips to saying “no” in a way your kids will listen.
HOW TO SAY “NO”
SET YOUR BOUNDARIES BEFORE YOU GET FRAZZLED | I think a big issue when disciplining kids is that we wait until we’re angry to finally intervene. We say “no, no, no, no” over and over again until finally we’re mad enough to go over and take extreme action.
The reality is, we should be taking action the first time we say “no” and we should be saying no long before we’re mad. We should be actively involved in the interactions, not shouting half-heartedly across the room. If you can find a way to calmly put yourself in close proximity to your kid, it will send the message of, “Oh, mom’s serious. Maybe I should stop.” Without ever having to be harsh, create fear, or cause pain to communicate your boundary.
So the next time you see your child doing something that is dangerous or that you simply just don’t want them to do, calmly walk over. Be ready to kindly and calmly hold their hands to help them from touching or hitting something or to remove the thing that is dangerous or off limits altogether.
This is the best way to not only effectively communicate what you want, but to also show your kids what self control feels like. To give them an example of how to stop themselves in the future.
TRUST THAT THEY UNDERSTAND YOU | No matter how old your child is, no matter how developed their speech may be, they get it.
Something that I think a lot of people don’t realize is that their kids understand so much of what they’re saying long before they seem to. They understand when you’re telling someone a negative feeling you have towards them. They understand when you’re proud. They understand when you don’t want them to do something. They’re not dogs that can only comprehend simple commands. They’re human beings who are learning, but who know more than they can express.
I encourage you to speak to your kids as if they’re five. Better yet, as if they’re another adult that you are asking a favor from. An adult who may be currently destroying your living room in a fit of extreme play, but still an adult who deserves the respect of full sentences and compassion. As an added bonus, add a please and thank you. After all, your kids are learning how to talk by how you talk to them. If you bark orders and simple commands at them with no amount of curtesy, they are learning they can do the same in the future.
WORK ON YOUR PHRASING | The way you phrase your requests really can make or break how your child responds. It’s important that you are as direct, clear, and confident as possible. Thing’s like “we shouldn’t” “mommy doesn’t like” etc. only creates a disconnect in the situation. It gives them an out. With these types of phrases you’re giving them the opportunity to say, “maybe WE don’t but I do.” And saying “mommy doesn’t”rather than “I don’t” can create a divide where “Kid” and “Mommy” are two characters in a story rather than you and your child engaging in a learning moment together.
Two things you can say to replace the simple “no” are:
- “I won’t let you...”
- “I can’t allow you to....”
It takes emotion out of it, it’s not vague. It is a direct, realistic comment on what you can and can’t let your child do. Keep it simple and short while still giving them the respect of a full sentence. This, along with being physically present and ready to stop a hand from grabbing or hitting, will really go a long way. I promise, even if you don’t think they can, they will understand and appreciate this so much more than just saying, “no.”
DON’T ALWAYS ASSUME THEY HEAR YOU | Did you ever have a moment when you were young where you were fully engaged in something and all of a sudden your mom was in your face yelling at you, super upset about something? Odds are, she’d already asked you five times and you didn’t hear her.
When kids get into something, they become completely engaged. Everything they see, hear, think, and do is all in the activity in that moment. So when you say across the room, “I need you to…” “I can’t let you…” There is always that chance that they literally don’t hear you.
When you’re talking to your kids, the best chance of getting them to hear you and listen to you is to be physically near them, maybe lay a gentle hand on their back, and calmly say the thing you want them to hear. It will save you a lot of grief if you realize they’re not intentionally ignoring you, but that they simply don’t hear you.
Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times a simple whisper has been far more effective than a distant yell.
IF THEY STILL WON’T LISTEN
If you try all of this and they still won’t listen, try and take a breath. Remove anything that could be dangerous, step back and ask “why?”
Is your child hungry, tired, in need of a diaper change, overstimulated, under-stimulated, effected by your mood? Have you gone through a big change recently? What in their world could be causing this behavior?
Sometimes kids use their rebellion as a way to express a bigger emotion that they just don’t know how to express. Kids don’t always know how to say, “I’m tired.” So instead, they’ll play with things that are off limits, throw food on the floor, hit you, yell at you, etc.
When you realize that the “why” is much more than a simple test of boundaries, you can start to try and determine what they need in order to give it to them. Even when they are adamantly insisting on not listening, I still don’t believe punishment is the answer. Is it really fair to punish them for asking for something they need in the only way they know how to?
So when they’re truly infuriating, look around, look at them, look at the time and see what they’re really trying to tell you. Sometimes it’s as easy as handing them a cracker and sometimes it’s as tough as needing to have a big tantrum to get out some emotions they’ve been holding onto.
I encourage anyone who’s looking for another way to say “no” to try this for a day. Just one day to see if it could work for you and your family.