Note: This post has been re-written and re-posted to recognize my better understanding of my child, FASD, and oppositional behaviors. I kept the original post here because it provides a useful before/after picture of the development of my understanding of FASD.
If your child has FASD or another neurodevelopmental disorder, please see the updated post for a more thorough discussion of the issue!
My child has a default setting, and it is NO.
I have several theories as to why this is.
- He is highly impulsive and so says the first thing on his mind. The first thing on his mind is, apparently, NO.
- He is fearful and anxious about new things, and this expresses itself by a rejection of new things, leading to NO.
- He’s learned to be defensive, probably due to problems processing information, which leads him to say NO to most requests.
- When he’s confused (see above processing problem) and hasn’t understood the request or question, he will also say NO.
- He’s also immature socially and developmentally delayed, so while many children outgrow the NO at age 4 or so, he’s really not there yet.
- Finally, he has learned that in our house, NO gets way more attention than YES, so when he’s feeling particularly needy he says NO, and says it a lot. Often when he’s feeling that way he combines it with name-calling, the phrase, “You are mean,” and sometimes crying and tantruming and throwing things other lovely behaviors that communicate how he’s feeling in the most unpleasant way possible.
Saying NO started when he first began to talk, around 3 (notice that he was a late-talker, which lead to more frustration, which lead to more NOs) and although we’ve had ups and downs over the past couple of years in terms of the level and intensity of his opposition, it’s pretty much continued unabated until now. He’s 8, 9 in 2 months.
What hasn’t continued unabated has been our response to these NOs. At first we went with the flow. After all, saying NO is very normal behavior for toddlers and pre-schoolers, as are tantrums and screaming.
I really wish I could say that all along I believed in my child and knew there was more going on than him simply being “bad,” but this wasn’t the case.
Eventually we (and when I say “we” I really mean “I,” because for better or for worse Mama drives the child-rearing practices in our house) came to a place where we started to realize that there was more to the NOs than him simply being a super-brat. I really wish I could say that all along I believed in my child and knew there was more going on than him simply being “bad,” but this wasn’t the case. It’s only been a recent (like in the past year) development that I’m realizing he truly, truly can’t help this behavior (see theories #1-5, above.)
But even though I realized his behavior was beyond his control, that the NOs were not on purpose, that if I waited a beat – 2 seconds or so – he would tell me what he really meant and thought – I STILL handled it wrong.
I talked. I talked and I talked and I talked. I talked to him about trust, and how he needed to mean what he said, and how people wouldn’t like him if he was so negative and how hard it was for Daddy and I and his brother to know what he meant if he didn’t say what he meant from the get-go, and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
It took me about a year to realize that although getting away from punishing him for saying NO was a good thing (and actually resulted in less NOs, believe it or not), talking about it, trying to be logical and providing reasons for why he wasn’t being an effective communicator by saying NO all the time, didn’t work. Not really. I mean, he heard what I said sometimes, and if you ask him in a calm moment how he’s supposed to ask he can tell you, but it didn’t really translate into the behavior we wanted.
That said, here’s what HAS worked. Finally:
- Giving him the benefit of the doubt. When he says NO, we wait. We (try not to) assume that he truly means NO when he says NO. We actually assume otherwise. We ask a second time. We get clarification. We ask a 3rd time. We make sure that NO means NO. Most of the time it doesn’t.
- Taking him out of uncontrolled social situations. For us this included school. He was too overwhelmed with the other children, the social and academic expectations that he couldn’t meet, and the constant frustration and disappointment he felt when comparing himself (or when others were comparing him) to others. He is less overwhelmed and we can concentrate on what really matters now.
- Stop talking so much about how to act. He knows how to act. Now we need to give him space and an atmosphere where he can put what he knows into action.
- Waiting for him to grow up. I’m not taking credit for that. His behavior/developmental level took a leap. It would have done so no matter what we did. I think this is the biggest thing that happened.
Now, my boy still says NO a lot. But he says it a lot less. And I’m willing to bet that as the years go by he will say it even less than now.
I’m not sure he’ll ever be a glass-half-full kind of guy, but at least he won’t break the glass before he’s even tried the water.