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How to Embrace the Word "No"


Ask Dr. Meg

Dear Dr. Meg,
     Hi! I have recently been listening to your podcasts and they are amazing. I have a question for you. I am raising a very strong-willed 7-year-old daughter. We are really struggling with her emotional reactions to everything. She still cries and throws herself on the ground when she does not get her way or is getting punished. We are really struggling with this. It's a constant battle and even affects our marriage.

She will throw herself on the ground and not go to her room for her time outs... then we literally have to drag her or she goes and thrashes her room. I would love some advice on how to handle these moments in our day. How can I help her control her emotions and mine!
                   --Mom at Wit’s End

Dear Mom at Wit’s End,
     I’ve seen a number of kids her age do this and I know, it is really tough. I think that the best things for you to try are these:

When she’s in a good mood say something like, “Honey, I know you don’t like it when Dad or I say no and I understand, no one likes to be told no. But here’s the deal, we all are told no. I am, Dad is, etc. Our job is to teach you that when we say no, you have to handle it like a strong girl. And--we do it because we love you. You’ve gotten in the habit of throwing fits when we say no, so from now on, this is what we’re going to do.

"When we say no and you do this, you HAVE to go in another room until it’s over. Then, you can join us again. These fits are making you feel worse, not better. When we tell you that you need to go to your room, you have to. If you don’t then here’s what you’ll have to do: (insert chosen discipline here)." 

Extra chores, whatever. Or you could find her favorite thing, show, playing games on her iPad, etc. Tell her that if she has a fit, then that thing is taken away for a week. A FULL WEEK.

No ifs, ands or buts. And don’t cave if she whines--she’ll know you’re not serious about the discipline and will use that to her advantage.

When you tell her this, she’ll probably have a fit! So, tell her to go to her room, and if she doesn’t then you walk away. Go to another room and separate yourself from her.

Whatever you do, pretend she isn't having a fit or trying to manipulate your attention. This is really hard, but she is doing them for two reasons.

First, she is trying to get under your skin and get you to feel sorry for her. Second, she may be really sensitive and has difficulty regulating her emotions.

The reason doesn’t matter. You need to handle them the exact same way. She will learn that when she has them, you refuse to pay attention. You can even put earplugs in--seriously! 

Never take the tantrums personally. This is NOT a parenting issue. You and your husband argue because you believe that each of you is wrong, etc. Don’t - this is just part of her personality and it has nothing to do with either of you. 

The next time you are planning to do something fun like go to a movie, out to dinner, ask her if she wants to go along. If she says yes then tell her that the ONLY way she can go is if she gets control of her fits that day. And - that if she can’t, you’ll just get a babysitter (have one ready.) Once she learns that she isn’t included in fun activities because of her behavior, she starts to come around.

Finally, you need to know this: she will grow out of them. Usually, when girls hit the prepubertal years, this settles down. So, tell your husband that. Hold on, try the above things and try to ignore her the best that you can. Also--make sure that you and your husband go out on dates (or find a way to be alone) as often as you can. You need to separate yourself from her, not because you don’t love her, but because you hate her behavior.

Photo Credit: GettyImages/DragonImages

Meg Meeker, MD is a best-selling author and pediatrician. To find her online parenting courses or listen to her podcast Parenting Great Kids, go to meekerparenting.com. To send in questions of your own, email them to [email protected] 

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