Distraction vs. Saying No

We've all been there. We are desperate for cooperation in certain situations, so we offer a toy, iPad or candy to allow us to complete what we are doing. Let's face it . . . sometimes it's basic survival!

But it's a parent's ultimate dilemma, whether to distract your defiant child who can't have what they want or if you should just say no. Sometimes I feel so exhausted from distracting or thinking of other solutions to their problems and I ask myself, "Why can't they just listen? Why do I have to offer other options all the time?" But the truth is that while there are certain times when saying no is important, distracting or offering other options often teaches children how to problem-solve (and also avoids a power struggle). Children don't have the coping skills that we do to figure out how to solve their problems. especially if they are tired or sick.

Here's an example of what kind of situation often arises...

Scenario #1

Child: Mommy, can I play in the water table with Grandma while you are gone?
Mommy: No
Child's thoughtsWhy is Mommy being mean? What am I supposed to do if I can't play in the water table? Why am I being punished?
. . . and then the anger begins building up.

Scenario #2

Child: Mommy, can I play in the water table with Grandma while you are gone?
Mommy: No, I'm sorry but that is too messy. Why don't we fill up the sink and add some bubbles? You can pull a chair over and pour with the cups?

Do you see how Scenario 2 teaches your child how to find another fun activity? This is different, however, than other situations where a parent constantly distracts a child by offering candy (or other reward) when they are not allowed to do something. While distraction can sometimes be a good thing, it's important to not use it as a constant crutch or else your child will not learn to problem-solve in other situations when being told no.

Toni Langdon is a stay-at-home mom of two daughters and an in-home child care provider. She is a black belt in martial arts and has worked with Chester County, PA children with special needs. This post is adapted from her blog, Tickles and Time Outs.

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