It’s one thing to raise kids who want to behave, but what do you when your 3 year old says no to everything? When all the words out of her mouths is a defiance to your rules, big and small? Maybe you can relate to Amy’s story below:
“I’m struggling with some of these issues and want your take—what do you do if you set the expectations and your child resists them, like, hard. Example: you ask your child to bring her dishes to the sink and she simply refuses. My child says no to everything (even stuff like washing her hands after using the bathroom—driving me crazy!).”
What to do when your 3 year old says no to everything
You hear that defiance is normal for kids, from toddlerhood to the teen years, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Especially when simple rules and responsibilities provoke power struggles.
Here’s what to do when your child says no:
1. Offer choices
Phrase the task as a choice your child gets to make. “Do you want to finish your drink first before putting the dishes away, or do you want to do it now?”
Why are choices powerful? They provide your child the autonomy to decide how she wants to do the task. No doubt she needs to do the task, and she might even resent that she has to do it. But given the autonomy, she’s more likely to comply when the choice falls on her.
Notice that the choice isn’t “either / or.” You’re not giving her the choice to put the dishes away or not, because she needs to put those dishes away.
Instead, you’re giving her the choice of how or when she gets to do them. And always provide parent-approved choices—you should be happy with either choice she makes, not use them to pit one against the other (“Do you want to put the dishes away or not go to grandma’s?”).
2. Show empathy to show you’re on her side
All your child needs to comply is to feel heard. Show empathy by saying you understand how she feels and letting your body language express that you’re on her side.
“I know it isn’t much fun—sometimes I don’t like putting my dishes away either. We have to keep our house clean though, and that’s why we need to put our dishes in the sink.”
With empathy, your child knows you understand how she feels and that you would even feel the same way in her shoes.
Download my PDF, The Power of Empathy, and learn how to prevent power struggles and instead better connect with your kids, all by understanding their perspective. Join my newsletter and get it below—at no cost to you:
3. Give a “better” option
Sometimes all we need to do is phrase the task as something kids “get” to do. Let’s say you haven’t allowed your child use the dishwasher yet. I bet this line would help get her to put the dishes away: “Hey, want to help me load the dishwasher?”
When phrased as a privilege, the chores become something they get to do. My son loves spraying and wiping surfaces in the house because he thinks it’s awesome to spray things. Well, there you go—I just got him to do chores.
4. Offer an incentive
Frame the chore as a means to an (awesome) end. This isn’t a typical reward (because external rewards only work for so long). Instead, you’re highlighting a positive consequence of doing the task: “After we place our dishes in the sink, we can lay the new puzzle you got on the dining table.”
The focus is on the “after” part—the fun part—and less on the means to get there. The chore isn’t the big battle and power struggle, but something to do so she can move on to a fun activity.
5. Pick your battles
Have you counted how many times you say “no” to your kids? And not just the word “no,” but any alternate for of it. “Please don’t jump on the couch,” “We don’t hit one another,” or “Not too loud.”
If you’re like me, it’ll be a lot.
And for the most part, we have to. We’re parents, and we keep kids in check. We provide boundaries and show them appropriate ways to behave.
But can you imagine living under those circumstances? It’s tough being a kid sometimes. And we have to remember that when we’re on the brink of another power struggle.
Instead, be particular with which behaviors need correcting and which ones can stand to be ignored. Kids, like all of us, have a limited amount of space to be disciplined for it to be effective. Focus on the best lessons and leave the rest.
6. Phrase the task like asking for help
It may not always seem like it, but kids are wired to please their parents, including helping out. Phrase the tasks she needs to do as something you need help with. “It’d be a huge help if you can get these dishes in the sink for me while I wipe the table.”
Now the focus is on being a helper, rather than being bossed around. She’ll feel more independent knowing she’s helping you out, not just obeying orders.
Plus, you emphasize teamwork. She’ll feel that her contribution is something essential to the family unit and will feel proud to take part in it.
Take a look at what to do when your child deliberately disobeys:
Listening to our kids and their endless “no’s” is challenging for any parent, but with a few changes, you can get your child to comply more often.
Offer choices so she feels more autonomous and independent in her decisions. Show empathy to diffuse power struggles and let her know you’re on her side. Phrase the task like you’re asking for help and encouraging her to contribute on her own.
Provide a better option and give “perks” that come along with doing the job. You can also highlight an incentive, or a positive consequence to getting the task done. And when all else fails, pick your battles and see which behaviors need most correcting and which you can let go.
Kids will at some point say “no” to your instructions and requests. Now you have the tools to better communicate and encourage her to comply, starting with putting her dishes in the sink.
Get more tips:
- What to Do when Your Kids Refuse to Do Chores
- THIS Is Why Your Child Is Testing You
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Deliberately Disobeys
- The Surprisingly Simple Question You Should Always Ask Yourself before Disciplining Your Child
- Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child
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