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Episode 24

What to do when your child continues to say “no”

March 28, 2022

[Kyle]: In episode 24, Sara and I are going to cover a very frustrating topic, what if your kid continues to say “no”? And by the end of this podcast, we're going to give you clear steps to help shift that situation, to where it becomes from a negative situation to a positive one. So, I hope you find it helpful.


[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 24 of The Art of Raising Humans podcast. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I'm Sara.

[Kyle]: And today we want to talk to you about what to do when your kids continue to say “no”. But first, before we get into that, I just want to remind you that, you know, Sara and I have a private practice. We've got a private practice called “Parenting Legacy” and I just point that out because we've got a fantastic website, we'd love for you to visit. So, that website's and I’m just pointing you in that direction because if you like this podcast and like what you're learning, there's so many great resources there. From blogs that we've written, to other episodes that we've done, to courses we've put together, that go in much more depth than we're doing here on the podcast and we’d just love you to visit that and we'd love for any kind of comments or responses you have to how that's helpful to you.

[Kyle]: But today in our podcast, you know, you should be getting this podcast sometime after spring break. So, Sara and I hope you had a fantastic spring break. We're about to go do a trip ourselves with our kids and we love to visit Colorado and visit the mountains. So, we're really looking forward to going up there and spending time with friends and getting to just enjoy some snow and some climbing and hiking and just a fun time. So, I hope you guys had a fantastic time with your kiddos over spring break and made some great memories.

[Kyle]: Now, we're doing this particular topic, because I did have some people comment after that last podcast, when we particularly talked about power struggles and what to do when your kid says “no” and somebody asked a really good question, “Well, what to do when your kid continues to say ‘no’?”. So, we thought “that would be a great sequel to that” and, of course, that's never happened to us. Has it, Sara?

[Sara]: No

[Kyle]: Every time we do all of our little techniques, it always works!

[Sara]: It always works.

[Kyle]: Yeah, every time. When the kids say “no” and then we do our things, it's like magic and then the kids say “yes”.

[Kyle]: Right? So--

[Sara]: Simple math formula.

[Kyle]: Exactly. So, kids are just like math formulas; they're so easy. I mean, this is kind of why we call the podcast the Art of Raising Humans. That Sara and I aren't giving you a prescription to raise kids like robots, you know? I think we're all raising kids that think for themselves, hopefully. You know, that have their own thoughts and opinions and we want to integrate those into our families and I think, each of our kids brings something unique and beautiful and important to our family and so, sometimes when they're saying “no”, that's really good. Wouldn't you agree?

[Sara]: I would agree. I think too we have to realize we have different personalities. So, some kids are more likely to say “no”, it just gives how they're wired and instead of seeing this as a deficit, but just go “okay, this is-- You're here in the world to challenge things” or “you're here--” and sort of, it helps our energy to shift, if we can remember personalities are different, it's not going to be a magic formula, because then we set ourselves up for this fall, right? We think “okay, I’ve got my three steps. When I do my three steps, it's going to work out perfectly” and then when it doesn't, then our frustration, our tolerance, our ability to be creative is going to be diminished, because we're hung up on the “what!? You said ‘no’ again?” and that's not going to help us. So, if we can-- Not that it's easy, if we can, we want to let that go and stay creative.

[Kyle]: Well, I know I can relate to this listener, as well who asked this question, because I know early on when we were learning new skills and techniques, it was like “yes! A new way to control them!”

[Sara]: Yeah. Well, you're always looking for that magic, right? That's why all the books say, I go “okay, okay, maybe this one”.

[Kyle]: Yes. “What's the magical new thing you can do?” and I remember early on, there was some great success and I thought “cool! We'll just keep doing that!”.

[Sara]: Got it all figured out.

[Kyle]: And then the stinking kids would grow and change and they would say “no” about something new and lots of times, I would find myself getting really frustrated, because I’d be like “I thought we were past this”.

[Sara]: Yeah, you're always hoping you're past this.

[Kyle]: Yes, I thought we were eventually gonna get to a kid who just would do what I asked, right?

[Sara]: Just keep it all easy. Why do they ever have to be challenging?

[Kyle]: Yes, and especially when I have a checklist that I need to accomplish and I’ve got a lot to do, it seems like those days in particular, they tend to say “no” more.

[Sara]: Yeah. When you're stressed, when you really need them to give you a “yes”, that's when they're going to give you a “no”.

[Kyle]: So, I think it's important to first say “yes, we've fallen into that trap too”. That Sara and I in particular, we have a lot of skills, we have a lot of tools, much more than we did before we had kids and much more than we did before we got educated and read a lot of books and grew as human beings ourselves, that I think we now have a tool belt full of tools, but still our kids sometimes still say “no” and I can still slip into that being a problem. A problem that I need to solve, a problem that I need to control, a problem that I need to exert dominance over and that I need to make that kid say “yes”, right? And I don't want to slip into that, that when I’m in my prefrontal cortex, when I am not rushed and stressed and I’m seeing my kid as the individual human they are, separate from me, I don't see their “no” as oppositional to me. I see their “no” as them advocating for their own desires and wants.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, just like you said, if you'll notice as a parent, I mean, the time I feel myself slipping into that and I just want to manage the situation, it is those “we're in a hurry, we have to get somewhere” or “I feel like this is really, really important and we've got to take care of this right now” and when those emergency states, those stressful states, those are the times and then, that's really about me and not them and I need to-- I want to recognize that in myself, because it'll help shift the energy too when I’m talking to my child. Because if I come to them in that state, they-- Kids pick up on that and then, even if they don't understand it, even if they're little or whatever age they are, it doesn't matter big or little, they're gonna dig in more because they can feel this “whoa! Why are you coming at me like this?” and it just makes them dig in more, it's not going to help shift things. So, I got to take care of me, take a deep breath, do what I need to do take care of me, to help shift it.

[Kyle]: That's where all that science that we talked about in the first few episodes, Sara, comes in really handy. The whole idea of interpersonal neurobiology, exactly what you're saying because many times, actually those same skills that worked the day before-- Excuse me. That worked the day before, actually aren't working today, not because they're not effective, but because I’m in a different place in my brain.

[Kyle]: You know and I find maybe the previous day, I wasn't so rushed, I didn't have such a checklist, I wasn't so anxious, I wasn't so stressed and so, I want to point that out first, that I think that's the overarching thing that typically is, what I notice for myself. Is that typically, it isn't the skill or the technique that isn't effective. Not to say that skill or technique is a magic wand and works all the time, but more often than not, when I’m doing things a certain healthy way, a certain way that is more congruent with the parent I want to be, typically it does work, it gets good outcomes. But on the days it doesn't, my first default is to reflect upon the different state I’m in. Like, in that moment “am I in a good space? Am I the very cooperation I’m trying to elicit from my child? Am I cooperative in this moment? In the very-- I’m trying to ask them to be flexible, but am I being rigid in my approach or am I being flexible?” and I find more often than not, I’d say almost in those days 6/10 OR 7/10 times, it is my personal inter-- my interpersonal state, you know? that where I am neurologically, that affects the energy the kid is bouncing off of.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah and then, I think there are those days too where you feel like “I’m in a good space”.

[Sara]: “I came to you and I was joking and we've had-- You know, this it's a good day for me” and then the kid still says “no”. So, then I think “okay, if I feel like I’m really in a good space and I came to you in a good space, what's going on inside of you?” Because just like I can feel stress, I can have a rough day, I can be-- Have things on my mind, so can kids.

[Sara]: Especially teenagers, I think they've got a lot on their shoulders.

[Kyle]: A lot that they can't even maybe understand it’s happening, yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah, trying to sort through it all, not even totally conscious. Like you said, it's not like they “oh, here's my list of stressors”, they're just there every day and so, if it's-- So, maybe I’m in a great space, but maybe I need to come to them and realize that immediate “no” and that attitude or whatever that came at me, is about what's going on in their interior world. They're feeling all of that and you know, when you feel, you're just like “no!”. It’s just like, it's almost as a reaction you have when someone's come-- Someone comes to you and it can feel like control, it can feel like “I’ve already got so much, and now you're giving me I need to go do this thing?” Or “You're not gonna let me do this” and that comes and just heaps more on their interior stressful world.

[Kyle]: Yeah, okay. So, what I’m hearing you say and what we're kind of agreeing upon is, the first step that if my kid continued to say “no” is, first, I wouldn't-- I guess that the tendency is for most parents, including even us, is quickly than to default. So, “okay, I used all these new tools. They're not working, go back to old tools”, you know? And those old tools for me, might be fear and shame. I might then try to become more intimidating; you know? “I tried to be nice, I tried to be kind, I tried to be helpful. Well, forget that! It didn't work!” So, now you're making me have to get intimidating and big, right? So, my tendency is to get bigger or my tendency is-- I know for both of us might be when we're in that space to like, use a little bit of shame language, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, I was gonna say some sort of--

[Kyle]: A little guilt trip.

[Sara]: Yeah, guild trip or some sort of a threat. “Well, if you're not-- You know, this isn't gonna happen, then this is what--” You know, just a “watch out kid!”

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, the first thing I want to do is, first, remind myself that these healthier tools do work and I’ve got to trust the process. Second thing is, I want to reflect upon my inner state. “Am I in that good space? Am I in my prefrontal cortex? In that moment, am I projecting my stress and my frustration on to my kid and thereby making it more difficult for them to be cooperative?” and then you brought up the third step. Third step is “am I conscious of maybe they're not in that space?”. Maybe they're in a worse space than I suspected, right? Maybe it's harder for them, maybe there is more going on. I mean, you brought up teenagers, you know, we'll probably definitely do a podcast in the future, but I mean, you're talking about not only do they have the social aspect, the pressure. I mean, this world right now is so full of stress and anxiety and pressure, the future. So, for some of them, it does not look bright, it looks very overwhelming and concerning, more so than it has in the past and then they're also going through body changes and hormones that they don't even understand, they don't--

[Kyle]: I don't know about you, Sara, but there was times as a teenager I woke up and I was just mad, I just wanted to get in a fight with somebody, you know? And so, if my parents were like “do you want breakfast?” “Yeah! Of course I want breakfast!”, you know? “God! Why would you ask!?”, you know? It was just like immediately already I was like “Oh, would you take out the trash?” “No! I’m not taking out the trash! Stop asking me to do so much!” and it was this immediate reaction. I didn't know where it came from, you know? And I think if my parents in those moments would come back at me like, “hey! don't talk to me like that!”-- I do actually as I’m saying this story, I remember one time I was sick and I just didn't feel well, my parents didn't necessarily know how sick I felt, you know? Like my stomach was hurting or something and I remember my dad asked me to do something and I was kind of like “no! I don't want to do that!” and I mean, he was “you don't talk to me that way!” and immediately turned into this big argument, because he had no idea the space I was coming from, but also wasn't willing to let that, you know, happen, he wasn't willing to receive that and go “what's going on?” and wasn't curious, you know? And I think too many times we can jump to that as parents, you know?

[Kyle]: So, I want to ask you, what steps do you take, Sara, in particular, so if you were to ask the kid to-- One of our kids to do something and they said “no” and then you did some stuff? You're in a good space and now you're like “well, that's-- I’m still not seeing the result”. What's the next step for you that you would take?

[Sara]: Yeah. So, I would be curious, I would-- Honestly, I’d reflect on how much time have I spent with them, so how much investment have I made into our relationship and I know we've talked about this in other podcasts, but the importance of connection. Anybody, a child, a grown-up, anyone, if I ask them to do something, their answer is kind of-- It depends on how well I’m connected. If I walked up to a stranger and said “hey, can I borrow your car?”, they're going to say “no” because we have no relationship. That's just-- It's just true and somehow, we don't expect it to be true with our children always or we forget. I’m buying you food and clothes and I’m here, but that's different than a time investment in our child and so, if you build that connection, they're going to be more likely to say “yes”. So, that's also my thought, is “whoa! What's the pushback?”

[Kyle]: Okay. So, you're saying--

[Sara]: There must be some breakdown here.

[Kyle]: What you're saying is you're curious about what the continued know is conveying.

[Kyle]: And the first thing you think it might convey is a lack of connection.

[Sara]: Yeah. I mean, besides-- We talked about their stress, right? You know, our daughter has-- She's got a lot going on right now and so, I see times in her where I am “okay, your stress level's high”, but I also, my immediate second thought is “are we connecting? Am I helping her with that space she's in?”

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, I almost think that first step, a lot of parents naturally do, a lot of parents actually go “oh, she's been going through a lot right now” or “man, school's been really hard for that kid”, you know? Or that they had this issue with a friend or they had, you know, whatever they got. So, lots of parents, I think do pretty well being compassionate about that and understanding, but then the next step is this like “have I spent much time with them?” and I think that might be an important question to ask, especially when it comes to teenagers. In their busy lives and their busy schedules, “have I spent enough time with them? Are we really connecting? Is all our conversations just me saying ‘hey, did you do that? Did you do this? Did you do that?’” Maybe they're-- Maybe they're feeling a little bit like a robot being ordered around and maybe I need to go back and get connection, right?

[Sara]: Right. I’ve had times honestly, where I remember-- Especially with my son, there's times-- My older two, I’ll go and if I notice this kind of snappiness it'll start, where it's just sort of the responses are a little snarky and I will look for a moment, I’ll kind of let it go right then and I’ll just look for a moment soon, where I just, you know, get up next to them, get close. “Hey, normally you don't talk to me that way. What's happening? Is something wrong? Are you upset with me about something?” and look for ways I check in with them and then I look for a way to connect. “Can we do something together?”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and you and I might even say that together, right? You might say “hey, I feel like, you know, Brennan’s been a little upset. We don’t spend enough time together, why don't you try to get some time with Brennan?” So--

[Sara]: Yeah. Yes, I need to go do something.

[Kyle]: Exactly. So, I’ll say “hey, why don't you get along with him? Go on a walk with him or go on--” So, I would encourage any parent listening, that to me is one of the first things we would do, a first intervention is, if there continues to be constant resistance, that's what the “no” is, I believe the big part of that is they don't know I’m for them, you know? Or they don't believe I understand them, you know? They don't believe I get it, you know? So, they inevitably-- The “no” is communicating something and I’m not sure what it is and so, connection is the best way to help that door open, to where they can better understand it themselves and then share it with me.

[Sara]: I love that, I love that the know the resistance is not--

[Kyle]: Thank you

[Sara]: Is not just a “no” or a, you know, there's something behind it, there's always a reason. It's if we get caught up in the behavior, which is very easy, I do it. You know, you get this knee-jerk reaction to this “what!? How dare you!?”, you have that and I think that's normal, but if we can move past that and then go “wait, that's just an indication of something deeper. So, let me go straight to that deeper” and just like, if something is hurting, you'd be curious what's going on behind the pain, what's causing the pain. So, if we can move to that space of “oh, what's causing these “no” and this resistance?”

[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, then once we do that, once we do the connection, I think-- You tell me, the next step I would take. So, first of all, I’m reflecting upon my own-- Where I’m at, I’m reflecting upon what's going with them. I’m thinking about “have I been connected enough?”, right? I’m trying to understand and maybe in that moment, I’m confused and that's why the “no” is so like “oh my gosh, like I’m trying everything and is not working. Okay, I need to reconnect, okay?”. What else might you do in that moment like, there's like, immediately in that moment when they keep saying “no”? How would you--Because that connection thing sounds great, but it does sound like something we're doing later.

[Kyle]: What do you gonna do right then?

[Sara]: You can-- Sometimes you could move into it right then.

[Sara]: You know, if it's not too heated, you can go “whoa--” You know, just take a step back.

[Kyle]: I’ve done that before; I’ve said to Brennan-- I remember one time we were throwing away a lot of his rocks that he had saved. We're cleaning out the garage and he likes to collect things and so, he collected a lot of rocks and I wanted to throw them away and he was very upset at me about that and didn't want to let the rocks go and so, when I asked him to give me the rocks, he kept saying “no” and what I did in that moment, he was a little older kid. So, at that time Brennan was maybe 4 or 5 and I just said “hey, could you take a walk with me?” and I specifically asked him if he wanted to hold my hand and so, we kind of walked together and I felt like it was an image of us working together. We're walking down the road together holding hands and I walked just long enough, to where I felt like-- I felt him kind of relax and then I was able to get kneel down towards him, look him in the face and then talk to him about how much that hurt to let those go and then, he was able then to say “dad, I’m ready to throw this away” and I think we agreed upon, we'll keep 4 of his favorites or something like that.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, you empathize with his situation. So, maybe there's-- His reason for saying “no”, that you got to that reason for saying “no”, the sadness, the loss.

[Kyle]: It was through connection and the connection was through empathy, yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah, and then you empathized with it. You still held your boundary.

[Sara]: And you honored his wishes too, where you came together and honored his “okay, let's keep a few of the really special ones” and came with him on that. So--

[Kyle]: Now. Well, sometimes, Sara, do you think it's appropriate to, if the “no” continues happening in the moment, to kind of just back off?

[Sara]: Yeah, that was my next thoughts. So, you know, I’m trying to-- If I try to move into the relationship but they're like “no way, not right now” or I might try humor, you know, but if I feel like all things are closed off to me, you know-- Because sometimes if I can just get my kids laughing, then that shifts, right? I’m just looking for a change in the dynamics, let's change how things are going. Sometimes it might be moving in with kindness and softness and sometimes it might be moving in with humor, but I want to change what's happening here, I’m not going to engage the resistance. The more that resistance builds, if they're building the resistance, I sort of in this not directly, but I just sort of let them know “oh, I’m not joining you in that, I’m not going to battle”.

[Sara]: We can have fun, I can hug you, we can-- Or if anything, I’ll just back off of it.

[Kyle]: I think a lot of parents are afraid to do that, because in that moment it looks like being permissive.

[Kyle]: It looks like I’m letting the kid quote/unquote, my fingers are up in the air quote/unquote, “winning” and I’m losing, right?

[Sara]: Well, and you want this-- They need-- Sometimes they need to know when sometimes I just need them to do it right then.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, and so, I think it's important. If I’m thinking that, that means I’m not in a good space.

[Kyle]: So, I have to let go of the fear that backing off, to me it means nothing other than “right now? We're just not in a good space to solve this”, you know? And so, maybe the thing I’m asking just isn't going to get done right now, but that brings me to the final point that I think is so important. So, first, I want to emphasize this, this is what I wrote down, Sara and if you want to add to that too, is I think the continued “no” at the minimum is a misunderstanding, okay? It's about a lack of communication.

[Kyle]: Either they don't know how to communicate their own needs and wants and why they think they're in opposition to what I want or they don't understand what I’m asking, right? Or they don't believe they can do what I’m asking okay. So, I just think some-- First of all, at minimum I would go with the thought “it's just a misunderstanding”, okay? That I think the kid does want to cooperate. It feels better to have that kind of relationship with your parent. So, I’m just going with that assumption, it doesn't help me to confident that they don't want--

[Sara]: Right, it’s that positive--

[Sara]: “I’m just going to believe the best in you”.

[Kyle]: Yes. But so, then I think beyond that, the kind of ideas I wrote down was “a kid doesn't feel safe in the connection”, okay? “The kid doesn't want to let go of power”, you know? So, maybe in that moment, the kid is tired of constantly having to give in and do what they're asked to do and for some reason just in their life, this I think was true for a lot of teenagers, is they just feel powerless. They feel like every adult in their life is telling them what to do.

[Sara]: Here's an opportunity to say “no”, so I’m just going to take it and it's something that's inside of them. You know, I used to-- When I counsel kids, there's a lot of times where I would just, my whole theme of the session would be power struggles, because I’d see-- And I didn't see it as this kid had a problem, needing-- It's something they feel so overwhelmed and so out of control in life, they're taking power wherever they can, because they're totally out of control. We can relate to that as adults, there's times we feel-- So, the fact that the kids wants-- A kid wants power, they want to be able to say “no”, is not a problem. We just need to give them chances to say “no”, we need to give them power, so then when we ask for them not to have power and to say “yes”, they feel like they can because they've had lots of other opportunities.

[Kyle]: And I think every parent can relate to that, where kids are asking you to do things all day long and sometimes you just say “no”, because you're sick and tired--

[Sara]: “I just want to like, sit here for a second!”

[Kyle]: I know! “I just want to do my own dang thing, man! stop asking me to do stuff!” and you don't even have a good reason and kids can feel the exact same way. So, then another one was, “the kid has a story in his or her head that says they need to fight and resist me for some reason”, you know? So, there's some kind of story that they believe, that somehow it's-- In that moment, it might be, you know, “you're not for me” or maybe there's a thing that you're-- “You are trying to make me do something” or especially with teenagers in particular, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, “you don't care or understand me anyway, so why am I gonna go with you and do what you want?”

[Sara]: So, we need to constantly be working so hard with teens to convey understanding, empathy, loving them, you know, because they're in a place where they don't feel that very much.

[Kyle]: And the last one was “maybe we as parents have been pretty inconsistent”, you know? Maybe we aren't trustworthy people in a sense of “maybe I think I asked them to do this all the time”, but maybe they're like “no, actually you don't” like, “you only seem to do this when you're in this certain mood” or “you say this is important, but yet, you don't model it”, right? So, I think a lot of this in the kind of wrap up is, I want to follow up with the kid to design structures and routines that make it more likely the kid will be cooperative with what I’m asking. Because that's typically-- The end thing is the kid is being asked to do something and they don't understand the purpose of what's being asked, they're not buying into it, they think they need to fight for themselves, when really I want to make sure they know “I’m not asking you to just go along with me and deny all your wants and desires. I think we can work together for both to be accomplished”, but the structures, routines, the consistency, makes it more likely the kid is going to be cooperative.

[Sara]: Yeah, it also makes it so you're not giving-- If you just have this routine of you get up in the morning and you make your bed, you get dressed and eat breakfast, you know, these things build into kids and they thrive on routines. So, if they're doing that, then you don't have to constantly giving out so many commands, because it's already built into their daily system and then, you ask two other things of them and it doesn't feel like you're asking 10 things, you're only asking the two because the others are automatically done. So, you get those routines in place and then, there's not so many things that they even think to say “no”

[Kyle]: So, in wrap-up, if your kids continue to say “no”, Sara and I’ve kind of pointed out a few key things. Is one, “am I connected enough?”, right? Is my bank account in the red or am I in the black? If I’m in the red, I’m probably going to get a lot more “no's” and consistently get more “no's”. Two, “does my kid know I’m for them?”, you know? Like in that moment, do I feel like I’m for them? Am I in a good place myself physiologically, neurologically or am I just trying to exert control? And maybe I need to pull away to get back to a better space before I ask that, right? And then the third one I believe is so important is, “am I being consistent? Am I being consistent with my expectations? Am I modeling what I’m asking them to do?” and I find lots of times the answer is in one of those three, right? And then there's that fourth element of just, “what's going on with them?”, you know? Maybe through later on conversations, maybe in that connection right in that moment, maybe then you can help the kid move from the limbic system, where they're only thinking about themselves and not able to think about what I’m asking, to them moving on to the prefrontal cortex where now they can be more open-handed and less close-fisted.

[Kyle]: Yeah, now we can cooperate together, we can create something new in that moment, all right?

[Kyle]: Okay. So, I hope this was helpful to you. I know hearing “no” is a scary thing, I know sometimes hearing “no” means I’m losing control. It may look like I’m not-- I’m not winning and so, Sara and I just wanted to-- That might be good, you know? Because they need to learn how to say “no” to people in their lives, who sometimes are trying to take advantage of them or mistreat them and so, the problem isn't the “no”, it's really coming together, communicating better and understanding our intent towards each other.

[Sara]: Yeah, helping them to know how to communicate a “no” to you, even if then it needs to shift to a “yes”, but the fact that they can say “no” to a grown-up in their life, awesome!

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, I hope this helps and we'd love for you to share your comments about maybe things you do to help your kids shift from a “no” to cooperation, you know, moving that resistance towards that. We'd love for you to leave any feedback, we'd love you to share this stuff, you know? We’d love five stars, we’d love comments, all those kinds of things are really helpful. If you have more things you'd like us to follow up with, feel free to share those. So, I hope you have a great spring break and hopefully, the spring weather is beautiful and you're getting outside and enjoying that and it's been great talking to you. So, have a great day.

[Sara]: Have a great day.

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