“The Answer is No”, subtitled “Saying it and sticking to it” by Cynthia Whitman, MSW, was published in 1994 but is still available at online booksellers. Is the book out-of-date? Well, it doesn’t have anything to say about iPhones, but if you have a child from two to twelve years old and need inspiration and emotional support in dealing with many difficult behaviors of those children, then this book is as timely as ever. Think of a problem a parent deals with on a day-to-day basis, and you will probably find it covered in this book. I won’t try to cover any one of the problems to the depth that Ms. Whitman offers. Instead, I want to present here the general sequence that she offers, with a little advice added by me, that you as a parent can adapt to the particular problem(s) you are dealing with in trying to improve things with your child.
First, identify the problem. Giving it a name will help you organize it in your mind. Ms. Whitman then suggests thinking over the problem. Is it really a problem worth addressing or is your child’s behavior bringing back memories of your own parent(s)’ overreaction to this behavior in your childhood? Yes, people have their sore spots. You might want to discuss the issue with some parents of your child’s friends or classmates, parents who have values you agree with and whose opinions you trust. If possible, achieve an agreement with your spouse about the issue. Set your expectations for reasonable, age-appropriate behavior for your child. Make those expectations clear to your child at a time separate from when the issue is occurring. When you’re in the think of things, you may be too angry to explain your position calmly to your child, and he or she may be too upset to hear what you’re saying and process the information constructively.
Saying no and sticking to it- the heart of each of Ms. Whitman’s chapters. The general approach is to state clearly your desire to your child, e.g. start your homework, stop begging for a toy when she or he is with you in a store or get ready for bed. If your child starts to object, tell him or her that you are going to ignore their comments. Do something else in the immediate environment to break the direct contact with your child and show them that you are not going to continue the discussion with them. Don’t keep talking to your child about the issue and reinforce their persistence. If your child continues with their behavior, give a Warning of a Consequence. Ms. Whitman states that a consequence is a loss of a privilege. She points out that to be successful a consequence should: have meaning for your child, be something over which you have control, be something which you are willing to take away, and be something which can be minimal in duration. Without having these components, your consequence is likely to be ineffective. If your child continues to ignore you and persists in the behavior, apply the consequence with minimal comment by you. Yes, of course, it’s easier said than done, what difficult thing isn’t. That doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do. This is where having the book can give you the needed support to do the right thing. Hopefully, your child will soon start to cooperate. Verbally reinforce this cooperation with a neutral comment, not one indicating that you have won. Don‘t launch into a lecture, just move on.
If you find that this approach isn’t powerful enough to have much impact on your child’s unacceptable behavior, perhaps there are other factors, like anxiety or attentional issues, involved and you might want to consider seeking professional help. There are several therapists here at STA with expertise in helping parents to improve their children’s behavior. Give us a call at 201-488-6678 to schedule an appointment with our Intake Department.