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Persistent Kids: How to Handle Kids Who Can’t Take No for an Answer

Can I watch “Jurassic World”?

Why can’t I watch “Jurassic World”?

Everyone I know has watched “Jurassic World”!

Come on, Mom. I can handle it. Let me watch “Jurassic World”!

I felt like a dinosaur myself, but I kept saying no. At 11, my tween son was still under the recommended viewing age for Jurassic World, a PG-13 movie. I’ve seen all the films in the Jurassic Park franchise, and while they have a fair amount of campiness, they are still scary and violent. People get eaten by gigantic, flesh-tearing creatures, after all. It took several more tries before he finally let it go, but he wasn’t happy about it, and neither was I.

Many parents have experienced some version of this squeaky-wheel syndrome .The kids want something, you say no, and they don’t let it drop. Maybe the kids want a cellphone or to sleep over at a friend’s house without the parents being home. Maybe they want to stay up late or skip soccer practice or watch an R-rated movie.

Whatever it is, parents who can stand firm through the second or third request often give in by the 5th, 10th, or 25th.

But giving in can have serious consequences, both in terms of your relationship with your children and in their interactions with others.

“If you change your mind after a certain number of requests, you’re simply training your kids to know where your breaking point is,” says Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a journalist and author of The Good News About Bad Behavior. “Any limit worth setting is a limit worth upholding. If you say no, you must mean it. You’re teaching your child that your word means something.”

Letting kids wear you down also sends potentially dangerous signals to kids that others outside the family can be worn down, too—for example, a girl who pesters a friend to drink with her or a boy who pressures a girl to sext him.

“Kids need to learn that it’s not okay to beat someone down with requests.”

“You don’t want your son to think that, if he asks 40 times, she’ll finally kiss him,” says Anne Terwilliger, a counselor in the Arlington, Virginia public school system.

How can parents caught in the squeaky-wheel pattern break the cycle? Lewis suggests empathy and acquiescence, when possible.

4 Ways to Help a Squeaky-Wheel Kid:

1. Empathize

“You can empathize with your child and still stick to a limit,” she says. “You can say, ‘I hear that you don’t think I’m being fair, and I understand that you must be disappointed.’ You can change your tone from defensive or weary or annoyed to empathetic.”

2. Say yes—if you can

Also, whenever possible, according to Lewis, say yes. “If your children are being respectful, find ways to occasionally give them what they want within reason,” she says. This doesn’t mean caving in, but it does mean considering whether or not what is being requested is something that you can live with.

3. Wait a minute

And it’s okay to take your time responding to a request, Terwilliger says. Buying yourself some time to come up with an answer you can stick to is better than saying one thing and then changing your tune later. “I sometimes tell my kids, ‘You’re asking me something that I will have to think about,’” Terwilliger says. “You want your kids to question things and be willing to push boundaries in their lives. But at the end of the day it has to be respectful.”

4. Don’t cave

Sticking to your limits is a way of showing up for your kids. “Kids want that strong parent,” Lewis says. “Even when they’re railing at you, they realize that they’re being protected.”

Recently, my son brought up seeing Jurassic World again. There were no whiny follow-ups, just a single polite and reasonable request. This time, we watched the movie trailer together, and we had a calm conversation about its content. I told him if he truly felt he was ready to watch it, he could. So far, he hasn’t watched it—and I haven’t heard another word about it.

Kim O’Connell is a freelance writer and contributor to Your Teen.

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