What Your Child Is Really Thinking When They Say ‘NO’

What is your child thinking?
Understanding you child's development will make lockdown parenting easier, says Tanith Carey

It’s no exaggeration to say that the coming months are likely to tax your parenting skills to the very limit

Without the freedom to get out with the kids, no child-care, and probably a few stresses of your own, it’s fair to say you will need all the insight into your child’s behaviour you can get.

Now a very different new parenting book What’s My Child Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents offers new understanding into your child’s thought processes at each stage of their development.

Written by parenting author Tanith Carey with clinical child psychologist, Dr Angharad Rudkin, it also offers the best research-backed solutions for more than 100 situations you will face with two to seven year olds, ranging from fussy eating to refusing to do school work at home.

Tanith Carey

Best of all, the book, published by DK, lays out the research-based answers in clear steps you can access in the moment – when you need them most.

Here’s three of the book’s scenarios for two, three and four year olds to show how understanding child development at each age can improve communication between you – and make lock-down parenting easier.

I want it now!

When you get a tub of ice cream out of the freezer, you tell your child it will be five minutes until it’s ready to serve.

She says: ‘I want it now!”

You might think: ‘Why does everything have to be right away. Can’t she just wait for once?’

What she’s thinking: ‘The ice-cream’s right there. Why can’t I have it right now.’

Being told to wait is a huge challenge for young children. This is because delaying gratification take higher brainer skills which don’t develop until a child is between the ages of three and five  –  and even then it’s a skill most of use continue to need to work on well into adulthood.

With so much on your plate at the moment, you might also be even more irritated than usual by her extreme impatience.

But to your child, ice cream is a treat that tastes so good, that the reward centres in her brain crave it as soon as she sees it.

For now, the best approach is to side-track your child.

The good news is that toddlers and young children are also easily distracted.

So immediately shift her attention away from the cause of her frustration – point out something more interesting such as: “Ooh, what that cat’s up to in our garden?’ or change the subject to her favourite topic.

Children at this age don’t yet really understand the concept of minutes, only sequences, like ‘before’ and ‘after.’

So another option is set your kitchen timer and give her a simple challenge, like how many toys she can collect to help her eat the icecream when it’s ready.

Explain that after bringing three animals,  her ice-cream will be ready to eat.

This will give your child a concrete idea of when she will be able to have what she wants, as well as a feeling of control over the process, averting a melt-down.

‘I don’t want to tidy up!’

Because you’ve been at home 24/7, the living room floor is littered with toys.  But when you ask your child to help pick them up, she refuses.

She says: “I don’t want to tidy up.’

You might think: ‘She constantly creates chaos for me to clean up It’s exhausting. If I have to tidy up all the time for the weeks to come, I am going to go perky. ‘

What she’s thinking: “I don’t want my toys to disappear. And there’s so many on the floor, I don’t know where to start.”

At first, your child’s refusal will sound like deliberate disobedience, but it will help if you try and see it from your her point of view.

When your child is absorbed in playing, it makes sense for her to have all her playthings spread out but still within arm’s reach.

Then, she can stretch her imagination and create new games by using them together – making a block house for her play figures

When you ask her to help put them away, it feels all her work is being dismantled and is going to disappear.

So tell her that if there’s anything special she wants to keep playing with, then you will keep it safely out of the way until tomorrow.  Or offer to take a picture so she feels her ‘work’ has been saved.

Asking her to tidy up the rest of her toys all at once will also  feel overwhelming to a young child.

So, from the start,  make it clear it’s a job that you are doing together and you are  a team.

Another way to make it more achievable – and more fun – is to challenge her to pick up just one type of toy. For example, ask her to pick up all her blue crayons, while you pick up the red ones.

Help your child see that tidying is in both your interests. By clearing space, she will have space to run around, she will be keeping her toys safe from harm, and will know where to find them again tomorrow

A little bit of routine will always help.

So schedule clean-up time at the same time every day – perhaps the gap just before dinner – to get kids into the habit, and put her favourite song on to make it race.

‘No broccoli!’

Your child is playing with her broccoli, instead of eating it.

She says: ‘I don’t like broccoli.’

You might think: ‘I’ve cooked her a healthy meal and she’s wasting it. At the moment, it’s even more important she eats healthily and gets her vitamins.’

What she’s thinking: ‘It’s great to be boss at mealtimes. And it’s funny watching mummy get cross. But it’s up to me what I put in my mouth.’

When you want your child to eat well, it can be frustrating when they won’t eat their vegetables.

But your reaction is critical here because if you get stressed, she is likely to dig her heels in.

Kids don’t have much power in their lives. But one thing they do have control over is whether or not they open and close their mouths.

Try not to get hung up on one meal. Reassure yourself that’s likely to be getting enough nourishment across the day.

Reduce the amount on her plate too. A dish piled high can look daunting to a small child.

Instead serve the food in small portions and then offer more when she’s finished.

Sit down and have a little of the same too.

It means she won’t be rejecting her food to get your attention.  Plus she will enjoy her food more if she sees you enjoying it too.

 ‘What’s my child thinking: Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents’ ,by Tanith Carey with Dr Angharad Rudkin, is published by DK and available at local bookshops and online.



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