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How Do I Teach My Child to Accept “No”?

I’m in the habit of buying small treats or toys for my 5-year-old when we go shopping, but now she expects it every time. When I don’t buy her something, she gets upset. How do I curb this behaviour?  Melanie


This is a concern that we often hear from parents. Children naturally gravitate towards consistency and routine, so it is typical for your daughter to now be expecting a treat whenever she goes out.  It can be especially difficult to deal with behavior when you are in public as you are in an unpredictable environment and there are a lot more factors that come into play that you wouldn’t find at home.

When developing a strategy to help your daughter learn to accept “no” from you, it’s a good idea to sit down with her before you go to the store and prepare her for what is going to be expected from her during the trip. Since she is still quite young, it might be helpful to use dolls or stuffed animals to illustrate your teaching and help her to practice this new skill.

Start by explaining to her what it is you want to see at the store, and try to keep it positive. For example, “We are going to the store tonight! I might have to say no when you ask for a treat, and I know how this can make you feel sad.”

Next, you want to explain to her what behavior you would like to see, and be sure to keep it very simple and clear. This helps her to know what is expected, and also helps you as the parent to maintain consistency. For example, “When we are leaving the store, you might ask me if you can have a toy or a treat. When I tell you “no”, you will look at Mommy and say “ok” in a calm voice. If you feel upset, you can take a deep breath or ask me a question in a calm voice.” Check in to see that she understands by having her repeat back to you what accepting no looks like.

Your daughter will probably want to know why she needs to accept no, so it is good to explain this to her. For example, “When you show me that you can accept “no,” we can then have more time to do the things that you want to do, like going to the park after the store”. Check in with her to see if she understands, and then practice the steps with her (with or without the dolls/stuffed animals). Practicing doesn’t have to be about the store specifically, because what we are focusing on is the skill of accepting no. You can pick a totally silly situation where she might have to practice the skill.

It can be helpful to back up your plan with some sort of reward for her. This can be stickers on a chart for every time she accepts no, which can result in a small prize at the end of the plan, or it could be immediate such as a trip to the park on the way home from the store. Be creative! You know your daughter best and so you will know what types of things will motivate her. Just be sure that you give her lots of praise and encouragement, as this positive attention will help reinforce the behavior that you want to see as well as fostering a positive relationship.

Finally, once you have done the prep work, you can give the plan a try. It might be helpful to start with short practice trips (like a trip to get milk and bread). That way you are not under pressure to complete all of your shopping should your daughter have some difficulties accepting no from you. You can then work your way up to putting the plan in place on those big shopping trips. Make sure that you are consistent with the plan so that your daughter knows that this is the new routine which she will be a part of.

Good luck!

– Laura, CTH Family Support Worker

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