How to Calmly and Firmly Say “NO”

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My 10-year-old takes a lot of my time and energy in so many ways. The most annoying and embarrassing way is that he won’t take “no” for an answer. He asks for explanations about why he has to do things, why he can’t do things, why he can’t have things, etc. Lately I have found myself avoiding saying “no” to him so I don’t have to deal his responses to not getting what he wants. I know that this is a bad thing to do, but I don’t know what else to do. — Steven, Sydney, Australia


Let’s start with an essential understanding: children do not have a constitutional right to explanations from their parents. The adult knows best because they have been on the earth longer and their brains are, at the least, more fully formed than their children’s brains. Any attempt at explaining expectations, choices for dinner, or choices for daily schedule, etc., will trick kids into thinking that they are in charge of their families and that they can get what they want with arguing. This is unfair and confusing to the child.

No one wants to be around someone who argues and complains about everything. It is especially terrible if you have to live with this type of person. I’m going to show you how to retrain your son so that you and the rest of the world will start to be able to enjoy being around him again.

Carefully notice the nuanced way I would deal with your son when he wants an explanation from me. It’s in the third line down.

Kid Whisperer: We are going to go to your grandparents for dinner tonight.

Kid: Ugh. No! They are so old and boring! Can’t I go to BW3s with Chuck and his parents?

Kid Whisperer: No.

Kid: Why not?

Kid Whisperer: You’ll see.

Kid: What!?! That’s not fair. I demand a list of reasons!

Kid Whisperer: I don’t know what to tell you. Get your coat. Grandma’s making brisket!

That’s it. Since you have trained your son to expect and demand explanations by giving him explanations when they are demanded of you, he is going to throw a royal fit. Do not engage, and simply sing “You’ll see” over and over, like the “ding, dong” of a doorbell.

Remember, kids who get explanations need explanations. Kids who don’t get explanations don’t need them.