Huffpost Parents
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Heidi Mulligan Walker Headshot

Why a Simple 'No' Is Not Always the Best Answer for Tweens and Teens

Posted: Updated:

A few weeks ago, in response to the HuffPost Stress-Less Parenting series featuring a post titled "Getting Your 'No' Right: Pamela Druckerman's Tips For Being The Boss," excerpted from her book, Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting, a HuffPost reader asked the question "Any advice to tweens? I like the idea of saying 'yes' more often." The question caught my eye for three reasons.

First, there were no responses giving advice for how to apply or tweak the techniques shared when it comes to communicating with tweens.

Second, the question highlighted the fact that so many discussions and books about parenting focus on the younger years. The tools and techniques shared often don't translate effectively when it comes to communicating with older children and young adults.

Third, it caught my eye because I teach a course called Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) based on the book "Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children by Dr. Thomas Gordon. During the course we focus a lot of attention on an element of communication with our children which is often missed out, especially when it comes to our interactions with tweens and teens. This is knowing the difference between a Conflict of Needs and a Conflict of Values when it comes to saying yes or no to our children.

When we are dealing with younger children, a simple no may be all it takes. This is not to say that needs and values are not at play when communicating with younger children -- they most certainly are. But when it comes to communicating with tweens and teens, it's more likely that they will push for more than a simple "no" when it comes to having their needs met. We can be certain that they will definitely push for more just "no" when it comes to navigating how their own values are beginning to surface and inform their choices.

With both needs and values at play beneath the surface, you can easily see why a simple "no" might not work, and why our relationships can begin to shift so dramatically at this stage of parenting. As parents of tweens and teens, this stage is a sign that we're being given the opportunity to share our needs and values more openly so that our children can understand where we're coming from. The beauty of this approach is that, if we do this well, we also gain a deeper understanding of their needs and emerging values and where they are coming from.

So to the reader's question: Yes, there are effective ways to say both yes and no when communicating with tweens and teens. Instead of reacting in the moment, this involves us, as adults, taking time to explore the needs and, where applicable, the values that may also be at play when faced with a decision about saying yes or no.

Here are a few simple exercises to put this into place immediately so you can share your needs and values more respectfully as a family.

Reflect on the last time you had an emotionally charged interaction with your tween or teen as a result of saying no to a request they made. Take time to examine what it was you were saying no to and why you were saying it.

What comes up for you?

You'll know you have a Conflict of Needs if there is a tangible effect on you. Valid, tangible effects are Time, Safety, or Cost.

A Conflict of Needs example: Your teen wants you to take a group of her friends to see a movie on Friday night. You were looking forward to a nice quiet evening at home after a few busy weeks. This is a Conflict of Needs. Your teen has a need to spend time with her friends. You have a need to spend some time relaxing. Both are strong needs, both are valid needs on that particular evening.

How to Share Your Needs Respectfully: Acknowledge her need to spend time with her friends, share your need to relax after a busy week. Brainstorm together how you can work it out so that you can meet both of your needs. In this scenario, you may be saying both yes and no at the same time. Could your teen see the movie another night? Or could you spend time at home another night? Could another friend's parent take them to the movie this time and you will reciprocate next time? The opportunities to find a solution where both of your needs are met are unlimited. But, you won't get this opportunity by just saying no to her request and meeting your need and ignoring hers. More importantly, you'll miss the opportunity to connect with her in a more meaningful way.

Identifying a Conflict of Values: You'll know that it's a Conflict of Values if there is no valid tangible effect on you, so no Time, Safety, or Cost at play, but rather it is something you feel strongly about. In this case, ask yourself these four questions:

1. What is the value (ideal of belief guiding your behavior, in this case your response) at play here?
2. Where did this value come from?
3. Why do I want to keep this value?
4. What is it about this value that I want to share with my child?

Conflict of Values example: Your tween has been taking piano lessons for years and announces that he now wants to stop. As parents, we can often come up with a time or cost effect from this, involving the lessons we have already paid for. But it's actually rare that this is the real reason we feel like saying no to this request. How many tweens or teens have pointed out that money will be saved if the piano lessons are stopped and yet the conflict and strong feelings associated with the thought of saying no to the request remain?

Those strong feelings are our clue that it's our values, rather than our needs, at play. From my experience working with parents, often, the value is wanting the child to feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from mastering an instrument. This, in turn, often comes from the parent's own childhood experience -- an experience that offers the parent an opportunity to share a personal story with the child. The parent wants to keep this value because perhaps accomplishing mastery of the piano impacted their life positively, and they want their tween to experience the same sense of accomplishment. This is one example of the underlying value that may be at play but there are many others out there.

If the value you want to share is that of accomplishment, ask yourself if this could be achieved another way. Is it acceptable for you if your tween tries out another activity in order to feel a sense of accomplishment? For example, what if he shares with you that he will feel a sense of accomplishment if he is allowed to join the after-school book club instead of taking piano lessons? You may need to ask yourself the questions again to delve deeper into your value and why it's important to you before you get to the truly authentic reason. You'll notice a difference in the way you communicate with your child when you're sharing a deeply held and authentic value with them, and asking them to consider it.

So, you can see why a simple no is often not enough. Both examples above occur daily in homes around the world without the benefit of understanding what exactly is at play, Needs , Values or a combination of the two. Without the benefit of this insight and a way to communicate yes or no, especially when values are at play, countless opportunities to really connect with our tweens and teens are lost, not to mention the chance to understand ourselves better.