Accepting No: Why it is an important skill to teach (aka: what do you mean you are out of dum-dums!?!)

By: Belinda Montelbano

parent-and-child-holding-handsIn the days before we knew of ABA and what a wonderful tool that it would turn out to be, we got through our days with dum-dum suckers. I know that it is not the best thing to do, but it was better than any alternative I had so far. This is a story of one of those days:

It was a very busy day, my to-do list was long and I was motivated! I gathered up my little boy, his diaper bag, the stroller, grabbed the remaining 10 dum-dum suckers out of the pantry. A nervous flutter in my stomach – “how did they get so low! Didn’t we just buy that big bag at the store?” Its okay though, grocery store is on the list. Just hit that one first.

Give him a sucker while I finish getting things ready to go.

Off we go. Get in the car seat (sucker, 8 left). Stop by the bank on the way to the store. He asks for a sucker (ca-ckee) so glad he is talking! (7 left). Head to the grocery store. Get in the cart – ooohh nice sitting in the cart (6 left). Grab my produce from the list (5 left). Meat, dairy, frozen… (Down to 2). Go through the candy aisle to grab the economy size bag of suckers that may last us a week. It is right down here on the bottom shelf- wait, it is usually right here! Where are the suckers (1 left). I will never make it to wal-mart with one sucker left. Okay customer service, do you have any other dum-dums, in the back perhaps? A smaller bag maybe?

Oh no, that is it? All out of the small, round suckers that keep my newly verbal child from screaming? Okay. (No suckers left) Yes, I saw the flat, oval suckers … Yes, blow pops and tootsie pops… Thank you.

Okay, Jacob. Which ones do you want? Tootsie or suckers?


No ca-ckee, pick something else.


You can see how my big plans of the day got ruined very quickly. All because I had not yet taught my child how to accept no.

This is such an important skill to learn. We use this skill everyday…

-millions of Twinkie eaters had to go several years without their tasty treat -our favorite TV show not on the air at its regularly scheduled time -the store is closed -they are out of peppermint mocha flavored coffee

So, how do you teach a child how to appropriately accept being told no?

Gather any 3 preferred items which have equal value to your child.  Examples could be three cars, three puzzle pieces, 3 different pieces of candy, 3 board game pieces.


  1. On an intermittent schedule, begin presenting your child with opportunities to successfully accept “No.”
  2. Present 3 preferred items to your child and prompt him to make a request. Example: we are going to play Candy Land, which color gingerbread man do you want to be?
  3. When your child requests one of the items, tell him “Not right now.” and quickly prompt him to request an alternative/available item. Example: Child requests Blue Gingerbread Man, you say “oh no, the blue one is missing (or not ready to play), pick a different one”
  4. Once your child selects or requests one of the alternative/available items, provide maximum praise and the item.
  5. If your child ignored the prompts to request a different item and begins to engage in problem behavior, discontinue replacement skill training and utilize Reductive Procedures (Planned Ignoring and Redirection Techniques). Please ask your therapist for help with these, depending on your kiddo.