What can I do if my child always says "no"?

Explore the meaning behind your ND child's "no." Discover how to help them maintain autonomy, encourage their curiosity, and engage them in figuring out where the "no" comes from.

As a parent of a neurodivergent child, you've likely encountered the resistant “NO!” more times than you can count. It’s a scenario that fuels continued conflict, loss of control on both sides, and feelings of immediate rejection.

What if I told you that there's a way to navigate this response, understand the meaning behind the “no,” and transform it into a meaningful conversation?

The power of "no."

First, it's crucial to recognize the importance of the word "no" in your child's vocabulary. It's not a barrier; it's a communication tool. When your child says "no," they're expressing their autonomy, their preferences, and sometimes, their anxieties or uncertainties.

Breaking down the "no."

When faced with a "no," we want to dissect it. The language that follows your child’s “no” will depend on their individual comprehension needs. Generally speaking, we want to acknowledge the initial response with phrases like, “I hear your ‘no’” or “I get it. You’re telling me “not right now.”

You can also include a comment about different ideas, turning perspective taking (them thinking like you) into perspective seeking (you thinking like them). Here's a script that will help: "In your mind what I'm telling you is unfair. I definitely see the unfairness. I'm wondering what else feels unfair."

With the acknowledgement comes an understanding that the “no” holds a lot of power. And you’re not asking your child to let it go (at least not all of it). For other kids, you want to figure out where the “no” is coming from with a statement that brings in a sense of wonder: “I’m wondering what part you’re saying ‘no’ to.”

Now, this poses an inquiry that seeks clarification and your child’s perspective first. It shows them that you’re not jumping to change their stance, you’re getting curious. You are also inviting your child to think critically about their response and identify the specific aspect they're uncomfortable with.

For example, if you suggest going to the park and receive a “no,” your child might not be rejecting the entire idea. Perhaps the "no" is meant for just one element, like the time of day or the particular park you’ve chosen.

Another great example is when a child says “no” to a new game or activity. That “no” is filled with uncertainties, such as “I don’t know what’s expected of me,” “Will I be any good at this game,” “What if I don’t understand it,” “I don’t like it because it’s new and new things are way too hard.”

You can turn the “no” into a moment of curiosity by taking that worried answer and shifting your own perspective with, “It sounds like you’re not sure” and “I’m thinking this new game could be hard.” Again, we are acknowledging, holding space, and giving enough time for your child to process this novel insight. The follow up is then an invitation into a unique opportunity of “let’s figure it out” and “I can show you the idea…we’ll see how it works.”

Setting boundaries and guardrails.

Understanding your child's "no" isn't about giving in; it's about providing a framework within which they can make sound decisions. This structure is vital for neurodivergent children who thrive with clear expectations that match their skills, as well as supportive boundaries. Remember, rather than responding with your own quick “no,” you start with a “yes.”

I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t I being permissive? Shouldn’t I just tell them, “too bad, you’re doing it anyway?” Don’t they have to get used to also hearing “no”? Not quite!

By engaging with your child’s "no” you’re continuing to build trust in your relationship. You are also showing your child that they can trust in themselves. You know that feeling when you sense that something is a little “off” and your gut is hinting that you should probably say, “no thanks”? That is you trusting in you. It’s based on experience. You want your child to have that same sense of trust.

In essence, the goal isn't to eliminate the "no." The goal is to understand it and work with it, creating a supportive environment where your child feels listened to and valued.

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