Saying "No!" (Without Guilt)

When your preschooler misbehaves, it can be hard to set limits. Learn how to stand your ground.

Disciplining adopted children can be hard for new parents. Here's how to do it.

When it comes to discipline, adoptive parents face the same challenges as other parents of preschoolers. Our children whine, cry, fuss, bargain, defy, and wriggle away from us at the most inopportune times. But sometimes, adoptive parents react differently to these challenges than other moms and dads do. Our hard-won parenthood can hold us back from setting limits and disciplining our adopted children appropriately.

In some cases, we are afraid to withhold pleasure or treats from a child who faced hardships before she came to us. We fear that others might criticize us for wanting a child so badly and then limiting her freedom or joy. Or, in the case of an older baby or toddler, we may feel like we’re not her “real parents” yet, so we’re not entitled to exercise limits.

Pushing Our Buttons

Saying no to a preschooler may prompt a heated response, such as “I don’t like you!” or “You’re mean!” Your child may even say, “You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my real mom!” A confident parent will ignore these outbursts, knowing that the anger will soon pass. But sometimes, an adoptive parent — wounded by such retorts — may feel that the bond between her and her child has been threatened.

It’s not unusual for parents to have difficulty reconciling their dreams of parenthood with the reality of day-to-day life. We may have envisioned our children as well-behaved cherubs, and ourselves as patient, benevolent parents, freely doling out love, treats, and praise.

Then reality hits. Our children, like all preschoolers, refuse to get in their car seats or share toys with siblings. They hit their playmates, refuse to go to bed at night, or embarrass us in public. In short, kids operate by their own code of preschooler ethics: one, if you don’t want to do something, stand your ground until you win; or two, cry or whine for what you want, and hold out as long as possible.

As parents, it’s our job to help our children become socially acceptable human beings. This entails saying no and sticking to it. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it!

Getting Started

Every adoptive parent has the right — and responsibility — to shape their child’s behavior with kind and appropriate discipline. To begin:

  • Have faith in the bond between you and your child, even if it’s new.  Build the connection with affection and reasonable limit-setting.
  • Don’t buy peace or affection with overindulgence. If you constantly give in to your child, you’ll pay the price down the road.
  • Expect the occasional angry moment when you say no or enforce limits. If your child tells you you’re a “bad mommy!” acknowledge his anger, then proceed calmly with your plan. If you back off, your child will try this maneuver again.
  • Remember that our children still love us, even if we say no. All kids need to know they can count on their parents for consistency. Giving in to their whims makes them feel less secure. If they run the show and call the shots, who will protect them?



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