“No.” Children hate to hear it, and you hate to say it — but how else can you keep them safe and well behaved?
It is the crazy-busy time of year when parents and children alike are feeling the stress of the holiday rush. Worn down from exhaustive “to do” lists, parents often have a shorter fuse and are less patient with their children. The word “no” creeps into the day with more and more frequency, sounding like a broken record.
Most of the time, the word “no” is a quick response, used to protect, instruct and teach kids about particular (even dangerous) situations. Although “no” is a tiny little word, it packs a lot of influence. Some parenting experts believe that saying “no” too much can actually reduce its effectiveness and breed resentment in children or even plant seeds for future rebellion. Amazingly, young children – especially toddlers – typically hear the word “no” up to 400 times a day! That’s not only tiresome for you but it can also be harmful to your child: According to studies, children who hear “no” too much have poorer language skills than children whose parents offer more positive feedback instead of negative. Further, using ”no” alone doesn’t help your child learn what to do instead.
What is a parent to do — let your child run wild or misbehave without any limits? Obviously, no! “Parents can break out of the yes-no tug-of-war by coming up with new ways to set limits,” says Howard Gardner, professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of Changing Minds. There are better ways to deny, deter, or discipline your child than always saying “no”. Here are some effective alternatives to try:
1. Rephrase in a positive way (saying yes…sort of).
Try reframing your “no” as a “yes”. Rephrasing our statements is one way of saying “no” to our children in a more positive way. For example, you could say to your child, “Yes, you can have candy — after dinner. Let’s put it right here and save it.”
- Instead of saying, “No, don’t run,” try, “Please walk inside.”
- Instead of “No, don’t touch!” try, “You want to touch the lamp, but it might fall and break. Please just look with your eyes.”
- Instead of, “No, don’t touch the cat,” try, “Please remember to touch the cat gently.”
Parents can validate their children’s feelings while saying “no” to them.
Validation uses feelings and reason. Younger children might find it difficult to understand reason – and reasoning with a toddler can be one of the most challenging tasks in the world! So if your explanations aren’t being understood, try using feelings and examples to explain.
- Instead of saying “no” or “stop that” to a child banging on the table, you can say, “I know you are upset but it hurts my ears and makes me sad when you scream at me. Show me/tell me what’s wrong so I can try to make it better.”
- Instead of saying, “No hitting!” you can say, “I know you’re really upset that your friend took the toy you wanted. What can you do instead of hitting?”
Explaining why we do not allow something also makes our children understand the logic behind our “no”. If you can help your child understand why they aren’t getting their own way, they are less likely to react negatively. For example, if you’re saying “no” to visiting the park right now, maybe explain that Grandma is visiting soon, and that you’ll go later. If the reason you’re using “no” is to caution against a dangerous situation – you should always back your statements with an explanation of why to help children understand the danger, and to satisfy their curiosity in a safe way. You might say, “Please don’t go near the oven because it is really hot and it might hurt you if you touch it.” Explaining this may be difficult for a young toddler; you might need to pick them up and show them – “Ouch! Hot! Don’t touch!” – but without explaining, you risk sparking that irresistible “no/curiosity challenge”.
4. Give choices.
In a situation where you’d usually simply say “no”, to your child, you are effectively ruling out all options for them. Instead, try to provide children with positive alternatives. For example, the next time your child asks “Can I play on the computer?” offer another option: “Would you rather help me make cupcakes or play a game? Which one do you prefer?” Adding in that last choice also gives kids a little power and independence over the situation.
- Instead of, “No, you can’t have a cookie now,” try saying, “You may have a cookie after dinner. If you are hungry now, you may have fruit or a piece of cheese.”
- Instead of, “No climbing on the furniture,” try, “The chair is for sitting in. If you’d like to climb, you may climb here (showing him).”
- Instead of, “No, we can’t go to the playground because it’s raining,” try saying, ” I know how much you love to play outside. We can go out as soon as the rain stops. Would you like to read a story or build with your blocks while we wait for the rain to stop?”
- Instead of, “No! No throwing balls indoors,” try saying, “You can roll the ball indoors or take it outside and throw it. What is your choice?”
When you make the time to talk with your child in more respectful, positive ways, (validating feelings, explaining the reasons for your requests, offering choices, modeling the behavior that you want to teach, and bringing your child’s awareness to the impact his or her actions have on other people), you are including him or her in the learning process. This helps guide the child to become self aware and self-regulating in his or her behavior. Your child learns to make good choices instead of becoming dependent on someone else to say what is right or wrong. Avoiding a direct “no” whenever possible can also help children to be more optimistic. Children learn to interpret the world through the actions and examples of the people around them. So if you can offer alternative, positive ways of viewing the “no” situations, you’ll encourage your child to consider other options when faced with problems in life, which leads to less stress, anger and frustration.