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Tolerating "No" Part 2: Moderate Learners

Does your child have epic meltdowns hearing the word "No"?



Do you get anxious when your child asks for something that you know you'll have to say "No"?


Well, here is a strategy to help you and your child navigate "No". It is recommended to use this strategy for children (with or without a disability) who are able to understand a language and the difference between being able to have something or not have something.


First, check out Tolerating "No" Part 1: Early Learners for other basic tips to help reduce explosive reactions when telling your child "No".


This strategy can be used in 2 different scenarios:

  1. When you don't want your child to have more access to an item/activity/location etc.

  2. When the item/activity/location isn't available at all.

No more access:

If your child has had access to an item and you no longer want them to (e.g. they have watched 3 cartoons and they keep requesting for more cartoons after you have said “No more”) follow these steps.



Step 1:

Acknowledge your child's request then say "No, (item) is finished" and immediately offer two alternative items that the child can choose between instead. For example: "No, cartoons are finished, but you can play trains or go outside."

It's important that the alternative options are as highly preferred as possible (especially at the beginning of teaching this skill) because it will be too difficult for your child to choose something else if they aren't interested in it.

Extra tip... use printed pictures or draw a quick picture of the other 2 options for children who are neurodiverse, have ASD, delayed language, developmental delay or just seem to process information better when represented in a visual format.


Step 2:

Once the child has chosen an alternative item give them positive and explicit praise for making that choice. This means being a little more 'over the top' than you would usually be. Use a higher tone of voice, explicitly say why you are happy with them e.g. "Great choosing something different! I'm proud that you stayed calm", give them a high 5, tickles (if they like that) and any other positive social praise to show your child that they have done something great.


These strategies sound good but you would like support to implement them?

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Items that are not available at specific times:


Step 1:

For items or activities that you know your child typically asks for and aren't available, use a sheet with 2 columns. One that says "Available" and one that states "Not Available". Write a list, draw pictures or print and stick pictures under each column depending on if the child can request for the item/activity or not.


For example:


If the child requests an item that is not available (e.g. they ask for ice cream before dinner) acknowledge their request and point to the sheet. Then say "No (item) but you can have (item) or (item)”. If they ask for a different item that's not on the "Available" column, but that they are allowed to have that item at this time, it is totally fine to give them this item.


Move the picture to the "Available" side when your child can have the item if they want (e.g. the ice cream is in the "Available" column after dinner).


Step 2:

Redirect your child to an alternative item or activity and don't respond to other repetitive attempts to request for the item that is not available. You can point to the "Not available" sign but don't talk to them about the item they keep asking for. You can redirect your child by talking about something different that they are interested in or playing with a toy that they love in a fun, playful and excited way.


Extra tip... have an over-exaggerated and excited response to something you notice or do something silly to distract your child's attention. E.g. "Oh my goodness look what I found in the fridge! How did this Lego person get in the fridge. This is crazy!"


Step 3:

Praise the child for accepting alternative item or activity.



Do you want more specific support to implement these strategies?

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