How To Say ‘No’ To Your Child Without Actually Saying No

This is a guest post By Suzanne.

Some days it can feel like the only word you ever use is “no”, turning you into ‘the big green ogre’ and leaving your kids in a grumpy haze. But though you’re only saying it for their own good, do your kids really understand? Could there be a better, more effective way to tell them “no”?


Reasons To Avoid Saying No

Most of the time, the word ‘no’, (often said when you’re in a rush, or really busy) is a quick response, used to protect, instruct and teach kids about particular (even dangerous) situations. You probably don’t even realise how many times you say it in a day, right?

But over time, “no”, without any explanations or positive associations can have a number of problematic effects. Leaving kids  possibly confused, angry, frustrated, and even with a negative outlook on the world, there are many reasons to avoid and limit your daily “no” quota:

• If said too much, “no” loses its impact and meaning, and can be instantly associated with ‘bad’ actions – meaning it’ll either be completely ignored by your kids, or spark automatic, instant tantrums.

• Saying no sets a challenge. Some kids, over time, see plain “no” as an irresistible chance to do the opposite. Often this is curiosity. If they don’t understand why you said “no”, then they’re going to want to find out!

• But – avoiding a direct ‘no’ can make kids 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 those “no” situations, you’ll encourage them to consider other options whenever they hit problems in life; preventing frustration, stress and importantly, angry sulking!

There Are Other Answers
This doesn’t mean you have to say ‘yes’ to everything however! There are alternative ways to solve the “no” problem without blunt negativity – you just need to think about situations in a different light to break free of the automatic ‘no’ cycle!

Give Choices – In a situation where you’d usually just say “no”, to your child, you’re effectively ruling out all options. Instead, try to provide kids with positive alternatives. For example, the next time they ask “Can I go on the computer?” offer another option: “Wouldn’t you rather help me make these cakes 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.

Explain why, and give positive explanations – In situations where there aren’t really alternative options, always compensate by giving an explanation. If you can make your child understand why they aren’t getting their own way, they are less likely to react badly. So 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 – “Please don’t go near the oven” – you should always back your statements with an explanation of why to make kids understand the danger, and to satisfy their curiosity safely. Explaining this may be difficult, you might need to pick them up and show them – “Ouch! Hot! Don’t touch!” – but without it, you’re sparking that irresistible ‘no’ curiosity challenge.

Use feelings and reason – Younger children especially might find it difficult to understand reason – and reasoning with a toddler can be one of the most challenging tasks on the planet! So if your explanations aren’t being understood, try using feelings and example to explain, instead of just saying “no” or “stop that”: “It hurts my ears and makes me sad when you scream at me. Show/ tell me what’s wrong and I can make it better”. This one might take a little longer, but is great way to develop your child’s understanding and sense of empathy, plus it has the added bonus of encouraging her developing vocabulary!

Of course it is OK to use “no” when you really have to! Just don’t let it become your default, and try not to associate it with anger and negativity – “no” shouldn’t always be a ‘bad’ word! Remember, tone of voice and expression can say a lot more than words themselves, and are often more effective than shouting.

See how many alternatives you can find.  What are some replies you can give to your kids that will get them thinking and understanding things from your perspective?

About Suzanne:
Suzanne is a mother to two, ages 2 and 6. She likes to blog about parenting tips whenever she has free time which seems to be getting more and more scarce! She also runs a small business which sells christening gifts called Bundles of Joy

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