1. Start with “No”
This is a basic, and works best for younger tweens. It’s part of setting your child’s boundaries — like back in that Terrible Twos year that she spent lured in by the light on the microwave; you did not hesitate to tell her “no” straight away. Fiona Walker, Julia Gabriel Centre CEO and mother of two, says: “Younger children need clear boundaries, so to a certain extent, saying ‘I’m your mother, I said no,’ will work. But as they get older that works less and less.”
Be aware of setting him up for “no” situations — for instance, don’t bring him into the candy section of the supermarket when he is hungry: Of course he’s ask for candy when it looks and maybe smells so good and you don’t want to give it to him.
2. Make “no” funny
Again for younger kids, try singing “no” to his favourite song or TV show theme. Use a silly voice from a beloved cartoon that you’ve watched together. Or try different languages. “Bu ke yi”. “Tak boleh”. “Nyet”. “Non”. Save the use of the flat, English “No” for serious stuff — that will help signal to your child your intent. Says Walker, “A younger child may listen to a ‘no’ but still need a little explanation why you’re saying ‘no’; that can divert a temper tantrum.” This can be just a word or two: “No, you’ll get a stomachache and have to miss the movie.” But as they grow older, says Walker, “You start to need to involve them in a discussion to help them understand your reasoning. Tweens have tendency to be more rebellious if they feel you’re not listening, not understanding and too quick with your ‘no’.”
3. Trade them something
“How about a piece of fresh fruit — it’s almost dinner and I’ve got your favourite, X” often works, regardless of age. Walker says that even older children will recognise but accept a diversion, if you show respect to them. You are telling them that you’re being reasonable: “I know you’re hungry, that you’ve seen the sweets. But if you have a fruit now, then have dinner — if you’re still hungry, then we can discuss having the sweet.”
Substitutions can work for eating, for playing (for instance, if she is kicking her ball around the sitting room, suggest a trip to the park to play soccer with her friends). This negotiating skill can be used even for chores or the dreaded homework: “If you finish your maths problems now, we can watch your show together.”
4. Explore the reason
“How would you play with it? What would you do with it? Why do you want it?” Just asking these questions can make your child pause and think about why he wants whatever he’s asking for. Sometimes, he has unrealistic expectations of a toy thanks to TV commercials. If you point out that, for instance, the super-transforming ultra-robot only does one thing, and that when his friends come to play, they like group games, your child might choose a board game instead.
On the other hand, you might find that she actually has a decent reason to get the gadget/book/meal of choice — and the discussion could turn into a “praise” situation, when you probe past “all my friends have one” (not enough of a reason) to maybe find out that it could help her school work or could be used to schedule her music lessons or something. “As get your child gets older, he will be happier if you are more open, flexible and respectful of the fact that he wants to influence his own life more and make his own decision,” Walker reminds us.
5. Give your child control
“Is it in your budget?” Especially with an older tween, giving him a budget can be useful, both to teach him saving money and the increased pleasure of delaying gratification. Certainly, for a younger child, bringing her to a store and giving her a small amount of money might be interesting, but for an older child in school, it can be gratifying for them to have quite a lot of money. Walker heartily approves of budgeting, saying “The more that you’re expecting them to budget, the better, it’s more like real life, and they come to realise that they’re not going to have money to play with if they spend it all on food and vice versa.
“Paying for school lunches, play and even for a cash card for transport — if they’re old enough to think it through, they will realise you’re not always meeting all their needs just like that, and they learn that money is not just for toys, they learn where money goes, it teaches them responsibility.”
And they take the first tangible steps in controlling their lives.
Fiona Walker is CEO and principal of schools for Julia Gabriel Centre, Singapore.