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Teaching children to tolerate ‘No’: A Quick Guide


Hearing the word, “no” can pose as a challenge for many individuals but more so for children. Most adults can manage their disappointment and alter their responses however our children are still learning this skill and while they do the struggle with understanding “no” can result in challenging behaviors.


Over the course of our children’s lives, it is impossible to avoid these situations, so it is important to teach our them to understand how to respond appropriately. Here are a few tips to work through some of the challenges:


Practice saying no to things that are not deal breakers:


When teaching this skill to your child, practice saying no to things that are not of high preference and preferably during routines that are easier for them as opposed to more challenging. Teaching a skill when they are calm will ensure that they are listening, learning, and practicing the skill. For example, during play time try teaching them first with a less preferred toy like stickers as opposed to a highly preferred toy like the Ipad. Remember, preferences are child specific! To know what is a highly preferred vs less preferred toy take note of the items your child asks for often vs things they only ask for sometimes. Try contriving these situations at home to provide ample opportunities to practice the skill before trying it in other environments.


Vary your phrases so the word ‘no’ is not a trigger:


Sometimes the real challenge is just hearing the word “no” and not the item you are denying access to. If the child begins to get upset before you have completed your sentence that started with a ”no” then it is likely that the word is acting as a cue for these behaviors. Varying it up with phrases like, ‘not right now’, ‘maybe, another time’, ‘how about we do x instead?’ can prove to be handy in such situations.


Say ‘no’ only if you really mean it:


Most of us have been in a situation where we have initially said no to something but when our kiddo’s start to get upset, we end up saying yes. This teaches the child that when we say no, we don’t really mean it and engaging in the challenging behavior such as tantrums will result in what they have asked for. To avoid reinforcing the wrong behavior, it is best to ask yourself if this is something that is really a “no” prior to stating this. Once you have said “no” it is important to follow through so your child doesn’t receive conflicting signals. This may result in an increase in challenging behavior before the child can learn the consequence.


For more information on why behavior goes up before it goes down check out our blog post here: https://www.kerrymaisels.com/post/why-does-behaviour-sometimes-go-up-before-it-goes-down.


When denying something, provide 1 to 2 options of what they can have:


Providing 1-2 choices of items that the child CAN have will provide alternate options for them to focus on. It is also important to keep in mind that if you are saying no to something that is extremely valuable to them, the options you offer should also be highly preferred and not options that are less preferred.


While tolerating no is a hard skill, it is an important skill to learn and practice to be successful. These strategies should help you get there!


For more information on this or other topics, feel free to reach out to us by email at: kmaisels@kerrymaisels.com or through our contact page.



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