Me: “I said No, you can’t.”
My son: “But…please! I really want to Mommy!”
Does this sound familiar? You already said no, but your child does not accept this unwanted answer. As a result, your child continues to push until you become aggravated, then you turn up the volume and yell, “NO!” Or, you wear down and eventually surrender to the incessant demands. Perhaps your child throws a big tantrum and plunges to the floor exclaiming, “I will NEVER be happy again!”
This relentless pushing can take a toll and have its roots in many places. Sometimes, children push and push because of parental inconsistency. For example, if your child was able to wear you down last time and you gave in to their demands, children will learn that pushing hard enough can pay off. Even if you have not surrendered to their desperate pleas, children may still feel the need to push back on your answer. Children must learn how to return to joy from their big feelings. For them to learn this, mommy and daddy must also know how to navigate big feelings back to joy. Many a parent has felt hopeless despair over these sorts of dilemmas.
In our household, I encourage my sons to think creatively about solutions, so I have a rule. If I already said “No” to something, they may ask one more time with their “best ask.” Since my children are only allowed to make their ask one additional time, I encourage them to think hard and use their best creativity to give me a good reason to say yes. For example, when they asked to stay 5 minutes longer at the park the other day, I told them, “No, because you need to return home to start your homework.” My sons responded with, “Mommy, can we please stay five more minutes? If you let us, we will start our homework in the car and still have time to finish our work before dinner.”
After hearing their request, I said yes because they solved my concern. At this point, we all felt satisfied with the result. However, if my sons came back with, “But please, I really want to!” The answer is a fast “No” then I point out how they wasted their “best ask” on something they already knew would be turned down. I want my sons to use their brain’s prefrontal abilities to think through situations, stay creative and simulate the minds, feelings, and thoughts of others around them. These ingredients increase what is known as emotional intelligence. (If you would prefer your children take your “no” as non-negotiable, there are other ways of building emotional intelligence, this is simply a preference for how we navigate these moments.)
Lately, my sons have continued to push after using their “best ask.” I have noticed my 8-year-old especially becomes very upset when he can’t have what he wants. In some ways, this is a new stage of development where he feels he should have more say in what happens to him. (1) He feels it is unfair that my husband or I decide what happens and what doesn’t. While I am working to give him more independence (along with the responsibilities that go with it), I recognize we are unable to have a meaningful conversation because, at the moment, he is simply too upset to discuss the issue. It is clear his brain’s relational circuits are off, and when this happens, his mind is not operating with his full relational potential. (2)
I am thankful we have developed a language in our family to talk about RC’s (relational circuits) and the need for quieting when we become upset. When one of the boys starts melting down because they cannot have what they want, I recognize it is time for some quiet so they can activate their relational circuits and recover from the mounting distress.
At the moment when the boys are throwing a fit, I remind them we are unable to discuss the issue while they are upset. I encourage them to take some quiet time and practice the “VCRC” exercise. (Learn more about the VCRC: “Skills That Even Calm Darth Vader”.)
After my sons calm themselves using validation and comfort then restore their relational circuits, we can then discuss what would be satisfying in the midst of not getting what they want. It has taken some practice to get to this point, but the outcome has been incredibly worthwhile. This approach has removed the power struggles that often appear when children do not get their way.
I want to emphasize that this process only works because I have been teaching them the skills to quiet then validate and comfort themselves and to take steps to restore their relational circuits. Like most skills, we learn something new because someone with the skill practices with us, then over time we begin to practice on our own. This process would not work without some previous practice up to this point. Also, this would be too much to expect of a very young child who lacks the maturity and quieting skills.
Which of these skills do you or your children need some practice? Pick one and start practicing together today. Each small step brings you closer to your desired destination. You can watch my husband Chris, and I navigate big feelings with our sons on our YouTube page.
Learn more about the skills to better navigate upset here.
1 – Because of ongoing brain development, eight-year-olds tend to be more independent.
2 – Read more about Relational Circuits.