It’s a fact that ‘no’ has always been the favourite word of any child – or at least that’s how it seems to their harassed parents. But these days, unlike earlier generations, parents seem much less able to cope with the demands made by their children. As a result, any explosion of rage or crying bout from a child aged between five and 12 frequently results in parents hurriedly backtracking from their stance. Here’s how to say no to your child – and mean it.
Keep it strict
According to Dr Archana Kavalakkat, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist at Hiranandani Hospital in Thane, the rise in the number of nuclear families and working mothers these days means that parents very often are not able to spend quality time with their children. As a result, in order to make a child happy, they give in to all of his or her demands.
“It is also possible that a mother may give in easily to a child’s demands, however unreasonable they may be, merely to get the child off her back as she is tired,” explains Dr Maya Kriplani, a psychologist at Jaslok Hospital.
Unfortunately, says Dr Kriplani, these days it is not possible to be as strict with kids as parents of earlier generations were. “My own parents were very strict with me,” recalls Dr Kavalakkat. “But you cannot behave in the same manner with kids today. You need to keep the channels of communication open.”
No means no
Consistency is the key to get kids to understand that no means no, says Dr Kavalakkat. “It’s important to understand that you should not give in to a child’s demand even if she or he is persistent,” she explains. “If the parent gives in after some time, the child begins to feel that ‘If I keep on asking and persist with my demand, mom or dad will give in’.”
According to Dr Priyanka Goenka, clinical child psychologist at BL Kapoor and Gangaram Hospital, Delhi, it’s the fear of a tantrum that often compels parents to succumb to their kids’ demands.
She explains, “These days, kids are used to getting things their own way. At the slightest hint of opposition, they throw a tantrum, preferably in public, or in front of guests, because they know this is the fastest way to get what they want. Most parents would readily give in rather than get into a situation where they have to deal with their child’s difficult behaviour.”
Adds Dr Goenka, “Parents feel they will be labelled bad parents if their child is crying or making a spectacle of themselves in public. It destroys their own self-constructed image of themselves as perfect parents.”
Her advice: remain strong and ask yourself what is the worst thing that can happen if you say no. “If the answer is that the child will indulge in bad behaviour, then realise that your child is already behaving badly, so there’s no reason to indulge him or her still further,” she says.
Stick to your guns
According to Dr Goenka, a perfect parent is one who can say no to a child, and mean it. “I tell parents that if they keep on saying yes to a child, who will teach the child that in the outside world, she or he will very come across situations where they will not get whatever they want?”
She adds that parents should never satisfy kids when they indulge in unreasonable behaviour, and should also dissuade other people – grandparents, friends and relatives – from butting in. “Inform them that it’s your child and that you need to deal with the situation,” she says, adding that parents should also present a united front to the child.
Parents who feel they are too lenient are sometimes confused about how to go about changing their behaviour. Dr Kavalakkat suggests, “If the child is old enough, first sit down with him or her and explain that things in life do not come easily. Tell them that you are going to be setting rules for their benefit, and that from now on, these rules will have to be obeyed. With a young child, change your system of behaviour systematically.”
How to negotiate
According to Dr Archana Kavalakkat, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist at Hiranandani Hospital in Thane, there are ways to negotiate with a child, while still not giving in entirely.
She explains, “Say your child asks to watch TV while she or he eats a meal, but you have made it clear that you would prefer them not to do so. So explain to the child that while this won’t be possible every day, you will permit her or him to watch TV while eating once a week. That way, the child recognises that the parents are being reasonable, but equally that they mean what they say.”
When you don’t want to give in to a child’s demand, such as when she or he wants to go to a late night party, Dr Kavalakkat suggests you explain the reasoning behind your decision. “Tell her or him about instances where teens have been harmed at parties,” she says. “Your child will understand you better.”
Dr Priyanka Goenka, clinical child psychologist at BL Kapoor and Gangaram Hospital, Delhi, advises not negotiating with a crying child. “Tell the child there won’t be any discussion until he or she calms down,” she says. “Then wipe their face clean of tears, and only then discuss the matter.”