Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Saying “No” to No!

Standing in line at the movie theatre recently, I listened to a mother tell her son “no” four times as we stood in a very short line to purchase our movie popcorn.  It went something like this …”No, you can’t buy candy!”…. “No pinching mommy!”…. “No, you can’t go in the game room without a parent!”….”No, we are not buying a soft drink, we are drinking water!” The mother turned and commented to me, “I have turned into the mother I swore I would never be–“The No Queen!” With a little research, I have found many articles on this very subject and are quite helpful.  Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, states “Over-using the word ‘No’ tells a child, ‘Don’t explore, don’t touch, don’t experiment and don’t take risks!'” That’s not to say you should stop correcting your children or setting limits, however, your task is to think of ways to mean “no” without actually saying it.  Let’s examine a few new strategies:

  • Try Saying “Yes” Instead.  Re-phrase what you are trying to say.  For example, “Yes, you can go outside after you put away your Legos.”  Doesn’t that sound better than “No, you can’t go outside until you put away your legos”?  Turning a negative into a positive sounds much better and will have a much bigger impact on your child.
  • Say What You Really Mean.  The word “no” is too vague for children.  It does not tell a child what you do want them to do.  The adult needs to provide an action.  If a 3-year-old runs into a street after a ball, it’s better to shout “Stop!” This lets a child know what you want he or she to do. This method works–and not just with dangerous situations. For example, “Please stop throwing food on the floor!” works better than “No throwing food on the floor!”
  • Tell Kids What They Can Do. Children need information. Tell a child what they can do before telling them what they cannot. For example, your child is jumping on your new couch. You are tempted to shout, “No jumping on the new couch!” But, the problem isn’t jumping; it’s where they are jumping.  So instead, give another option you’re okay with such as “You can jump on the floor or jump off your climber in the yard.”  This approach works wonders. It will enable you to defuse tantrums and arguments on a daily basis.

With less whining, fighting, and bad behavior (and fewer consequences), any situation can be become better for the child and the adult.  Without being told “no” every other minute, a child’s confidence is re-built and a parent is more at ease with decision making.


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