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My 5 year old daughter is crying every time she is told no. It doesn't matter if it is a little thing or a big thing she is asking for--she cries. We don't give in to her crying.
We have tried several things to change the behavior. We have had her go sit in her room and cry it out, talked to her about making a better choice and thinking "no big deal, maybe I can next time", modeled better behavior, and asking her what she thought her friends would do in her situation. Nothing seems to work. Any Ideas?

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7 Answers

First of all, to kids that age it's all "big stuff." It makes them sad to not get their way, and crying is how they express their sadness. If I suddenly discovered a way to make my children not want to cry in the first place, I don't think I would use it.

That being said, at best crying forces everyone around you to give excessive attention to you and your feelings, and at worst bullies people into giving in, and so is basically antisocial. What I try to do is validate the feeling, but correct its expression with an explanation. "You're sad because you wanted a cookie, but it's not nice to make everyone listen to you cry. If you want to cry, please go to your room." Sometimes they choose to stop crying, and sometimes they choose to go to their room.

Of course, that's easier said than done when they do it all the time. In reality, I'm nice about it the first time or two every day, then get progressively terser as I get progressively more annoyed, but the nice way tends to work the best.

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BIG +1 for to the kids it's all "big stuff"!! –  balanced mama Feb 6 at 23:57
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I just want to share a slightly different perspective on this one. I totally agree with Karl that its "all big stuff" and that handling things "the nice way" is usually going to work best for you.

However, I want to offer a perspective I don't already see here: For any social human (which is really all of us) a big part of our psychological validation is just feeling understood - it is actually a need once the physical needs like food and shelter are met. It is why children that don't get touched fail to thrive and why humans constantly search for love and validation. A cold hard no, that doesn't acknowledge in any way the wish of the child is likely to leave a kid feeling that their wishes don't matter or not understood.

Please don't take this to mean I think you shouldn't say "no" far from it!

What I am saying is that it is important to find a way of letting your child know you understand and empathize while you say "no" - at least some of the time. I suggest the following steps be taken while using an even, loving, but not patronizing voice. A voice that expresses empathy but remains very down to business and isn't concerned over prevention or stoppage of crying:

  • first express back to your child what it is she is after.

"Honey, I know you would like a cookie."

  • Follow your acknowledgement with what your ultimate goal is:

"I want you to be healthy and that means eating things other than cookies too."

  • Then, Offer up a Win-Win solution whenever possible

"After you have had five bites of all the things I am serving for dinner, you can have a cookie."

I also understand there will be times when a win-win solution is not possible. However, there is often a workable, "winning solution" anyway

"Honey, I know you want a cookie right now. I want you to be healthy. You have already had five cookies today so you've used up your sweets rations for today. What healthy treat would you like to have instead? I have grapes, raisins or strawberries available for you."

(I know the vocab I'm using here may be a little high-brow for a five year old. Obviously, put it into your own words)

Or, for those times when a win-win or winning alternative are not available of course you can pull the parent card - but this is something that should only be needed in increasingly rarer and rarer circumstances.

Since your daughter is five, You can even begin to enlist her in helping figure out the win-win solution which will help her learn a certain amount of independence and gain some problem solving skills and practice as she searches for a workable answer that takes your wants/needs/wishes/objectives into account as well as her own (don't expect miracles here, modeling and guidance is needed at first, but you are setting yourself up for a much more agreeable time with her when she is a teen if you start training her in this art now - of course, even then I wouldn't expect miracles). The way you put this to your daughter might sound something like:

"I know you would like a cookie right now. I want you to be healthy and it is my job to teach you how to make healthy choices. I am concerned you have already had too many sweets today. Can you come up with an alternative solution that meets both our needs? You get a yummy snack, that is also healthy?"

You may find that she still cries (especially at first), but in my experience, if you stick with it long enough, the crying will abate and be replaced with attempts at finding win-win solutions with you most of the time

You haven't hurt anything by prepping your child with an acknowledgement and a request for a win-win instead of a flat out "no." Respond with the same emotionally neutral but loving tone you've already been using.

"Wow, I see that you feel really sad about this. I offered up the best compromise I could think of and unfortunately, crying won't actually help you at this point."

Sometimes, If I think there is a chance I am missing something in regard to what is upsetting the child, I might add at the end of that,

"Try a deep breath. Can you tell me what need you have, I haven't met?"

That last one can be dangerous to use because it can result in a heightening of the crying/emotive outburst so use it with caution. However, I do find it helpful in those situations where I really am having trouble figuring out what it is that is wanted or wrong.

For kids that just can't get a hold of themselves:

"You look like you could use some time to yourself to work through your disappointment. Would you like a quick hug before you go? We'll see you back here again when you are ready."

In regard to the "your child shouldn't get anything for this behavior" sentiment, I agree - If, it truly is a matter of a child honestly and with intention attempting to manipulate you.

If, after your efforts toward understanding, your child simply won't budge (and consistently) - then yes, your child is behaving stubbornly and should be dealt with accordingly. At this point, on the occasions when a child has cried and then come back at me with the exact same request and is crying, begging, pleading, or throwing a tantrum about it, that is when I simply say.

"Negotiation time over. Your decisions are not geared for a win-win."

and then the child does not get what he or she wanted or any sort of compromised "half way", and gets some time alone in whatever place is most appropriate for the age (Room, time-out spot, etc etc).

The "Sales Pitch" (so to speak) If you think about it, this is much more true-to-life way to handle agreements/disagreements anyway. When an adult makes a request that keeps both party's goals in mind, that adult is a lot more likely to make the sale, get the bargain, figure out the compromise, maintain healthy, happy friendships/relationships, etc. than someone that just throws their weight around trying to get what they want no matter the expense to everyone else. It solves a problem for you and teaches your kid an important life skill through modeling and practice.

I recommend two great books you may find helpful and from whence much of this answer is inspired:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families (and its child oriented compliment The Seven Habits of Happy Kids as well as the Seven Habits Blog)

and

How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk

Know that you are far from alone in the battle, we are all cheering you on, and that in the end, you have your child's health and well-being at heart - eventually, your child will come to a place in life where she will come to understand that - even if it is 30-40 years from now :-)

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If she continues to cry every time she's told 'No,' despite apparently not getting what she wants, then I'd argue that there's some value in it for her and she IS getting at least some of what she wants out of it. Examine your behavior when she starts to cry: are you cuddling her? Cajoling her? Giving in in other ways? It could be that you do none of that, but she can tell that you're getting flustered or frustrated, and she keeps doing it to demonstrate to herself that she has the power to upset you by crying. (It certainly affects my husband that way!)

When one of ours tries tears to get what he/she wants, we remind them of our saying about these things: "You get what you get, and you don't get upset." (Or, "you get what you get and you don't pitch a fit.") Kind of silly to have a mantra for tantrums, but it works.

Tl;dr: find out what she's gaining by crying and then adjust your strategy accordingly.

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This is one of the hardest things to get right. I find myself saying "no" and not really meaning it. This type of "no" conveys "not right now, but maybe if you keep carrying on about it, it'll be yes." most of the time these types of "no's" function well. The child knows when to carry on and when not to under normal circumstances.

But every once in awhile, they don't quite get the message and a more forceful response is needed. This is when a "no" takes on the meaning "no, absolutely not. I don't care how hard you cry or what you think on the subject, the answer is no." I do this in a way that is abundantly clear and unmistakable to understand. I look them in the eye, I say "no" in a deeper tone of voice, all while signing the word "no" (in American sign language).

Once doing this, the hardest part is being consist. I try not to give an absolute "no" unless I have no other option, as I know I will have to enforce it 100% of the time or it will loose its power (or at least enforce it 98% of the time).

Testing behavioral boundaries and limits is a normal part of life. When boundaries are clearly explained to children, they will be much more likely to stay within them (and, of course, test them).

I would also check on the other children she hangs around. One of the children in our daughters class had a few bad habits my daughter picked up. Once we found the source, we were able to treat the problem.

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As others have said, it's important to make sure she is getting absolutely nothing from you ( a reaction, attention, whatever). Carefully guard yourself. You must very matter-of-factly ing more it. Speak to her exactly as you would if she weren't crying.

When the behavior finally begins to extinguish itself (she handles a "no" appropriately) make sure you let her know you noticed. You could say something like "hey, I know that you are disappointed, but you're doing a great job being a big girl. I'm very proud of you." Kids at this age want to please you, and want you to be proud of them.

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There may be some value in letting her cry it out in front of you, while you continue going by with your routine. Sending her to her room to cry it out may be sending her a message of "you're being punished for the crying" but not that "crying won't get you what you want" because eventually you will have to go to her room anyway to do something.

If she gets upset with you, you should probably let her be upset because it will force her to learn to deal with your "NO" in a different way, negotiating, pleading, and so on.

While we would like to believe that we can talk our way out of the situation that our kids show amazing self control at that age they really don't care yet about what we have to say.

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This made me laugh as my daughter has ALWAYS been like this... I think you have had enough "in depth " answers on this so I shall just tell you what I found works for me... If I'm saying a 100% no...... For example she asked to cross a busy rd alone.. I will answer with "no way Lauren " putting emphasis on the way part seemed to help and she just accepts it!?

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