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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


The Art of Saying "Yes" and the Art of Saying "No"

By Mark Huttenlocker

Conflict between you and your out-of-control kids can occur when he/she wants something from you (e.g., to acquire material items, receive privileges, gain attention, avoid following a rule, avoid doing a chore, avoid receiving a discipline, avoid meeting a parental expectation, etc.).

The Art of Saying “Yes”: When your kid wants something from you, and your answer is "yes," be sure to use it as an opportunity for your kid to EARN the privilege. Here are some examples:

Child: “I'm going to Marquis' to play some basketball.” Parent: “All right. As soon as you get your homework done.”

Child: "I'm hungry.” Parent: “O.K. Let's cook something together, and then we both wash the dishes.”

Child: “Can Shaun spend the night Saturday?" Parent: “Yea. But your room must be picked-up.”

Child: “I want to borrow the car Sunday." Parent: “O.K. But first you must wash it and vacuum the inside.”

Child: “I need some money.” Parent: “How much ...and what are willing to do to earn it?”

The Art of Saying “No”: When your out-of-control kid wants something from you, and your answer is "no," here's the best strategy to use:

1st - Say “no” once -- and only once.

2nd - Your children will say “why not” and will want to argue.

3rd - State your reason for saying “no” only once, and let them know what they can do to earn what they are asking for.

For example: “I'm saying ‘no' because _____. If you will _____, then you will be allowed to _____.”

4th - Your children will continue to try to whittle your “no” into a “maybe” and then into “yes.”

5th – Say “I am not going to argue” (put on your best poker face here - remember not to show any sign that you are angry).

6th - If your children threaten to ignore your “no,” then a clear warning should be given immediately:

“If you choose to ______ without my permission, then you choose the consequence which is _____."

7th - If the warning is ignored, then quickly follow through with the consequence:

"Because you chose to _____ without my permission, you chose the consequence, which is ______.”

8th - If your children refuse to accept the consequence, take everything away (or at least their favorite stuff and/or activities) and ground them for 3 days. If they have a rage-attack when they find out they are grounded for 3 days, the 3-day-discipline does not start until they calm down. If they violate the 3-day-discipline at any point, merely re-start the 3 days.

9th - Tell them exactly what they must do to get off discipline, but stick to the designated time limit:

“If you will _____, you will be off discipline in 3 days.”

Here's an example of how the art of saying 'no' plays out --

Child: Mom, I'm going to Kara's house.

Parent: No, not tonight (say 'no' only once).

Child: Why not?

Parent: Because it's 9:30 p.m., and your curfew is 10:00 p.m. The last time I let you go to Kara's this late, you didn't return home until nearly 11:00 p.m. You can go to Kara's tomorrow if you have your chores done and you go earlier in the evening (here you are stating your reason for saying “no” only once, and telling your child what she can do to earn the privilege).

Child: I did not get home at 11:00 p.m. I got home just a few minutes after 10:00 p.m. (distorting the fact).

Parent: I'm not going to argue (with a poker face).

Child: I'm just gonna run over there and pick up my school book. I'll be right back (sweetening the deal).

Parent: I'm not going to argue.

Child: Well, you let Sara go to her friend's house after 9:30 p.m. the other night (applying a guilt trip).

Parent: I'm not going to argue.

Child: (mocking the parent) I'm not going to argue …I'm not going to argue …is that all you can say? You suck! (applying an insult).

Parent: (showing no emotion) I'm not going to argue.

Child: This is bulls__. You can't tell me what to do! I'm going! (ignoring your request).

Parent: If you choose to go to Kara's, then you choose the consequence, which will be grounding for 3 days and no phone privileges (parent's warning).

Child: We'll see about that (child leaves and returns at 11:15 p.m.).

Parent: (when the child returns) Because you chose to ignore my request, you also chose the consequence, which is grounding for 3 days and no phone (enforcing discipline).

Parent: You will be ungrounded in 3 days and get the phone back if you come straight home from school every day this week (telling child exactly what he/she must do to get off discipline).

Points to keep in mind:

Make your time-line anywhere from 1 evening to 7 days (3 days works best!). When disciplining strong-willed or out-of control teenagers, grounding and taking away all privileges (e.g., TV, phone, video games) work best. The 3-day-discipline works because it fits the way children think, not the way parents think (3 days is an eternity to a kid). If your child is grounded and breaks another house rule, simply restart the 3 days.

For example: A kid completed 1 day of a 3-day discipline for getting suspended from school. On the second day, he sneaks out of the house to be with his buddy. The parent simply started the same 3-day discipline over again. This keeps restrictions from piling up. He is more likely to hang-in when he can see light at the end of the tunnel.

You can't control your out-of-control kid, but you can control the things he enjoys (e.g., television, video games, freedom for activities, junk food, toiletries, favorite cloths, bedroom doors, cell phones, etc.).

While the out-of-control kid may not be willing to work for the things you want, he will usually work for the things he wants. By controlling the things he wants, you can influence him to change unwanted behaviors.

Where do I put the stuff that I take away from my kid?

Some parents designate a closet with a pad lock to store confiscated stuff. Some parents put the kid's things in the trunk of their car or at a neighbor's house. Others have been known to throw the less expenses items in the trash (toiletries, some cloths, junk food, etc.).

How am I supposed to get the kid's computer in the trunk of my car?

Be creative. There is always a simple way to confiscate. Just take the computer keyboard rather than the whole computer. Just take the cable cord to the television. Play Station controllers, DVDs, CDs, and cell phones are easy to hide. If the item is too big to carry out of the kid's room, just disable it (e.g., take possession of a vital cord that connects the CD player to the speakers in the kid's entertainment center).


Mark Huttenlocker, M.A., is a family therapist who works with teens and pre-teens experiencing emotional/behavioral problems associated with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder. He works with these children and their parents - in their homes. You may visit his website here:

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