When “No!” Means “I’m Confused…”

When "No!" Means "I'm Confused..."

When “No!” Means “I’m Confused…”

In The Many Meanings of “No”, you learned that “No!” doesn’t always mean No. Sometimes “No!” means I’m confused! How can you help your child if he or she doesn’t understand what you want? Below I describe three types of confusion, and give suggestions for how to help.

“I don’t understand….”

Sometimes a task that seems incredibly simple to you feels overwhelmingly complex to your child. There can be a number of reasons he doesn’t understand. Perhaps you used a word he doesn’t know, so it sounds to him like you just asked him to “Please bring me a flibblenator.” Check for comprehension.

Instead of telling your child what you don’t want, tell him what you do want. Instead of “Stop hitting the coffee table with that stick,” say “You can hit the carpet with your stick.” This way your child doesn’t have to figure out by trial and error what it is that you want him to do.

Sometimes a task that seems simple to you has a lot of steps that you aren’t even aware of. If your child doesn’t seem to know what to do, break the task down to its components and then give one direction at a time. Praise your child for accomplishing each step, so he feels motivated to keep working.

“I don’t know how to get started.”

Have you ever been asked to do a project that feels so complex that you don’t have a clue where to start? You start on one part of the job, and then you realize that you need to do another part too. You start on that part, and realize there’s an additional part to do. If you can just begin you will make progress… but where to start? If this is what your child is struggling with, you can try to do the project together, working side-by-side. For example, if your child won’t put on his socks, say, “My feet are cold, so I’m going to put on some socks. Your feet seem cold too – do you want to put on our socks together?”

“I am trying to figure out what you want, and I need some time.”

Some kids take a while to figure out what you said and to put it into action. (This is known as slow processing speed.) Perhaps they have trouble figuring out what people are saying. Perhaps they have trouble translating requests into action. If your kid takes a little longer to do certain tasks, the best strategy is to patiently ignore the “No!” and wait.

There are kids who can take as long as five minutes to translate a request into action, and five minutes can feel like an eternity when you are waiting.

To get a feeling for how long it is, set a timer for one minute. Then think of something you want to do, turn the timer on, and wait for a full minute. It feels like a really long time! Now think about doing that when you are waiting for your child to respond to a request.

For kids like this, you may need to start factoring in more time to get things done. For example, if your child regularly has trouble getting ready on time in the morning, try getting up 15 minutes earlier so there is more time to get through the routine.

Showing your child exactly what they need to do will help them follow your directions when they don’t understand what you want. Be patient, and remember that what is obvious to you as an adult may not be so obvious to your child. 

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