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“Put your coat on”

“No”

“Put your coat on, you have to, it is cold outside.”

“No!”

What do you do next?

“Eat your vegetables”

“No”

“Eat your vegetables, you have to, they are good for you.”

“No!”

What do you do next?

“Get down from there.”

“No”

“It’s dangerous. Get down from there. You might fall.”

“No!”

What do you do next?

‘No’ is a very powerful word. It is especially powerful to people whose lives are primarily controlled by someone else. If you are a child it is likely that someone else decides when you go to bed, when you get up, when you eat, what you eat, what you do and so on.

Perhaps you have heard someone say “I just can’t say ‘no’.” My bet is that they are an adult fully in control of their lives.

Consider the experience from the point of view of the child, after the ‘what happens next?’. If in each case their no is ignored: their coat gets put on anyway, the vegetables are spooned into their mouth, they are lifted down from the top of the wall. What does that teach them about the power of their spoken ‘no’?

What they learn is that saying “no” doesn’t work.

What comes next makes logical sense. If you want to say “no”, but saying “no” doesn’t work, then you move on to showing ‘no’. Perhaps you shout, perhaps you pull away, perhaps you lash out, you kick, you punch.

Isn’t it an interesting position we find ourselves in as the adults in these conversations? Each one is justifiable. They do need their coat on. They should eat their vegetables. And they must get down before they fall.

But it is important that children learn that saying “no” works.

We do not want them to learn that escalating their ‘no’ works. That is, we do not want to change our position in response to the ‘no’ being shouted. We understand that if we crack once, then they are much more likely to learn that shouting is a way to get their own way.

We have to take a step back. Is our aim to teach them that adults are in charge and they should do as we say because we are right? Or is our aim to guide their decisions about their own life and keep them safe? It is the latter of course!

Direct instructions are an easy first option, if the child puts their coat on, eats their vegetables and gets down from the wall we’ve kept them safe and warm and fed them a healthy diet. Oh if only it were so easy!

As wonderful as a child that follows instructions without quibble sounds, just consider for a moment the dangers that might lie in such compliance for them in the future. We want them to question, to consider, to reason, and to know how to say “no” should they ever need to, and to have the expectation that their ‘no’ will be heard and respected.

We are the adults and are in a position to reflect. It is useful to let spoken ‘no’s work on occasion. If you know the child ate lots of vegetables at lunch time and really genuinely hates broccoli, then perhaps this exchange could be:

“Eat your vegetables”

“No”

“Oh, you don’t want to eat these? They are good for you.” (Saying “you don’t want to” is important as it underlines that you have heard and understood what they meant when they said “No”)

“No”

“Hmm, well you did eat lots of vegetables at lunch time so I think it would be okay for you to leave these.”

We are not simply letting the child get their own way, we are picking times when it is appropriate to teach them that their verbal ‘no’ is powerful, and should be respected.

If we are not in a situation where this is appropriate we can use other work arounds so that the situation doesn’t lead to a stand-off. Choices and control are a powerful tools for doing this.

Choice:

“It is dangerous up there, do you want me to lift you down or can you climb down on your own?”

(Whatever their answer, the result is you directed them to get off the wall).

Control:

“It’s very cold outside. Brrr! When we go out there we will feel cold. What can we do to stay warm?” (Giving the lead up information about how we will feel outside, and using expressions like “Brrr” to give the child time to consider what we are saying, is important before leading into the question).

“We could wear a coat!”

“Good idea! Where are our coats?”

A child saying “no” is not naughty and defiant, they are road testing a skill you want them to have. Hearing their ‘no’s and teaching them their effectiveness is a part of keeping them safe.

Jo provides in person and online training to settings looking to enhance their inclusive practice. For more information visit www.TheSensoryProjects.co.uk where you can also find resources to help you include children of all abilities. Jo is active on social media and welcomes connection requests from people curious about inclusive practice.

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.

Consistently rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in mainstream and special-school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodivergent conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.

Joanna has published four practitioner books: “Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic”“Sensory Stories for Children and Teens”“Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings” and “Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia”. and two inclusive sensory story children’s books: “Voyage to Arghan” and “Ernest and I”There is new book coming out soon called ‘”The Subtle Spectrum” and her son has recently become the UK’s youngest published author with his book, My Mummy is Autistic.

Joanna is a big fan of social media and is always happy to connect with people via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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