Teaching your child to accept being told “no”

Who likes to hear “No, you can’t have that”?? …. Erm, no one right?!

But as we all know, you can’t always have what you want. However, it’s really tough for a lot of children to tolerate being denied access to something that they want. Really tough.

I bet you don’t have to think for too long of a situation where you’ve told your child or your learner “no” – they can’t have something that they’ve asked for and this little word has resulted in some form of problem behaviour.

Think of it like this – being told we can’t have what we want is hard for all of us and as parents/teachers we need to teach our little ones to stay calm when they hear no and ultimately redirect themselves to something else that they can have.

As always in ABA land, we want to break the skill down into manageable steps to ensure the child is successful as often as possible.

Then we can gradually ‘raise the bar’ until the child can cope with naturally occurring situations e.g. “no more ipad, it’s run out of battery” or “no more biscuits” etc.

So, where do we start?

Teaching the ‘accepting no’ programme is used with kids whose problem behaviour has been determined to have a function of a history of obtaining preferred items following problem behaviour.

In other words, the problem behaviours have been learned and maintained because although the child was initially told NO, problem behaviours resulted in the delivery of an item or activity that was previously denied.

And I know as a parent myself that saying ‘no’ and sticking to it is tough, especially in the face of problem behaviours!

There are a few variations of this protocol and as always it needs to be tailored to the individual.

In a nutshell, the accepting No Program consists of the child’s problem behaviour no longer being reinforced (i.e. they do not access the item they’ve been denied) and the child is taught to accept no, by offering an equally reinforcing alternative.

Over time the alternative reinforcers will eventually be faded and no longer offered once the child is successful at accepting no.

Let’s look at an example;

E.g. You child asks for more crisps and you say…

“No crisps, but you can have some crackers”. OR

“No crisps, but you can have a book”.

If your child accepts no and remains calm you can deliver the alternative reinforcer and offer social praise.

However, if problem behaviour of any kind occurs, you would remove the reinforcer and put the problem behaviour on extinction; (do not provide any attention to the problem behaviour). If the child grabs at you or pulls you in the direction of what he might want etc then remove yourself from his grasp and walk away.

Over time as your child accepts no you would gradually fade out the alternative item that’s being offered, perhaps by only offering it sometimes or offering something that’s less preferred but that’s available to your child and is something they could access by redirecting themselves to.

With some kids you need to be very systematic when teaching this with careful consideration for each target.

And another tip – don’t wait for naturally occurring situations to pop up, contrive situations to your child has the opportunity to practise this.

If you want to learn more about teaching kids to learn to tolerate hearing ‘no’ then check out this video I did with BCBA Steve Ward:


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