As parents, we always want our children to be happy. This can make it difficult to say No when necessary. However, teaching children to tolerate not getting their way is one of the most important lessons we teach as parents. Though it can be a struggle, there are some simple strategies that can make it easier to set boundaries with young children.
Give Them Clear Options
When children are learning to communicate, it’s natural to ask them questions and let them formulate their own answers. However, this can make it more difficult to say No when children express a desire for something they shouldn’t have. For instance, if you ask your son what he wants for dinner, and he says ice cream, then you have to say No and explain that ice cream isn’t an option.
An alternative is to start out by giving children a choice between the available options. Instead of saying, “What do you want for dinner,” you can say “Would you rather have potatoes or spaghetti?” This gives your child control over what he eats, but sets reasonable boundaries about what he can choose.
Set a Clear Time Limit
Anyone who’s ever argued with a child knows that children can go on forever trying to get their way. A five year-old can give you 73 reasons why he should be allowed to wear his superhero pajamas to school. If you don’t set limits, the arguments will never end. This is why it’s important to communicate when decisions have to be made and stick to your deadlines.
If you’re in the store picking out clothes, and your daughter asks for something she can’t have, make clear that you only have a certain amount of time to shop. Whatever you agree on in the next ten minutes is what you’ll buy. If you can’t agree on anything, then you’re going home with nothing. Don’t let children’s protests hold you hostage. It’s okay to walk away.
Perhaps the hardest part of saying No is sticking with it when children insist on getting their way. Even when our children behave poorly, we ultimately want them to be happy. But it’s important to set expectations, and let young children know that there are consequences for their behavior. So if you tell your son that he has to behave or he doesn’t get to watch TV, be sure to stick to it. Don’t back down when you see how bored he is. No matter our age, we all learn from the consequences of our decisions. Even when it makes them unhappy, children learn valuable lessons from the small privileges they lose for misbehaving.
While saying No to our children may always be a challenge, it is vital to teach children to respect the boundaries that we set for them. By having a plan for how to approach this difficult lesson, we can make it much easier to impart the values we want our children to have.