17 January, 2022

How to Respond When Children Ask for Things

The vast majority of parents have a natural predisposition to say “yes” to their children’s requests.

Unfortunately, that’s not always possible though and you’ll frequently have to say no to your child.

Analyse the nature of the request

Toddler-age children will ask for hundreds of things in a typical day. In most cases, they’ll have forgotten what they’ve asked for almost immediately and effortlessly move on to their next activity and the following demand!

Parents will quickly discover that responding, be it positively or negatively, to every single demand is a practical impossibility. So, the first skill you’ll develop is to differentiate between casual ‘not-real-want/need’ type requests and those that have rather more foundation to them.

That leads to the thornier question of when and how to respond to those requests that do seem to be more thought-through and important to your child.

Imperative wants/needs

Some requests from toddlers can be regarded as no-brainers. Examples might include “I need the potty” or “can you tie my shoelace?”. It would be wise to move quickly on these types of requests!

Easy to service requests

Others may be things you’re both willing and able to comply with.

For example, requests such as  “can I have my game down?” or “please help me – my toy has broken” may be quickly delivered. In most cases, you’ll probably have no issue saying yes to this sort of demand.

Problem areas

Most of the challenge arises in areas such as:

  • things that will consume a lot of your time – “can we go down to the park?”;
  • questions that might involve danger – “can I help to cut the bread?”;
  • requests that aren’t practical – “can you build me a playroom like Jamie has?”
  • things that you just think aren’t right at the present time “can you tell me where babies come from?”.

In these situations and many others like them, you’ll need to develop strategies for saying no but without crushing your child’s natural curiosity and need to engage with the world around them.

Mastering saying ‘no’

The top tips here are:

  • think about it for a second, to show your child that you’re giving it due consideration. Consider what it means to them and whether or not you can offer a compromise;
  • however, be clear. Say ‘no’ if you mean it and don’t use ‘maybe’ as a soft option (unless you mean it). Try not to leave your child confused as to whether you’ve said no indefinitely or only for the immediate term;
  • explain why you feel you’ve had to say no;
  • if you have a compromise, bring it in at this stage;
  • avoid using statements of the “because I said so” type. They give the wrong message to young children;
  • never say ‘no’ to a child’s request for information. That sort of request is totally different to asking for a thing and their intellectual curiosity should be nurtured and encouraged. If you feel they’re not ready for the information they’ve asked for, explain that it’s something they’ll find easier to understand when they’re a little older and you’ll discuss it with them then;
  • all parents have had the experience of saying ‘yes’ to a request then for one reason or another, experiencing the awful realisation that they can’t deliver. If that happens, be honest and openly explain to your child why your original yes must now be a no. Avoid lying to them about the causes if possible.

One final tip.

The barrage of demands from toddlers can be reduced if you set some ground rules in advance. So, for example, say “messy painting is only after lunch”. That should stop demands for painting in the mornings, which wouldn’t be practical for you.

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