Have you ever had an experience where you have spent an afternoon listening to a parent constantly say ‘No’ to their child, or heard yourself on a ‘No’ rollercoaster? It is the most annoying and physically and emotionally draining experience. When I am faced with witnessing these moments my immediate thought is, “Well then what is this child permitted to do?” And then I start to wonder, if I am feeling this way as an adult, how frustrated and annoyed is this child feeling?
As children are learning to navigate their world they need limits and guidance. How you choose to set these limits and offer guidance has an influence on the development of their character and problem solving skills. Exploring alternative ways to saying ‘No’ is not just an exercise in positive parenting. There are some developmentally appropriate reasons why you might consider changing the way in which you say ‘No’:
- ‘No’ lacks direction and/or validation;
- Frequent use of ‘No’ creates a negative environment;
- ‘No’ creates oppositional reactions;
- ‘No’ looses it’s meaning and impact when used too often;
- ‘No’ can lead to over-directing which denies the child a chance to make good decisions for themselves.
Say ‘No’ another way
Alternative ways of saying ‘No’ can demonstrate important life skills and assist in the development of important cognitive functions:
- Alternatives can demonstrate consequential thinking (‘If you throw that on the floor then it may break’, ‘If you shout then I can’t hear what you are saying’)
- Alternatives can motivate cooperation (‘Blocks aren’t made for throwing, why don’t we see who can build the highest tower with these blocks’)
- Alternatives can develop your child’s decision making ability (We don’t have any sweets in the house, would you like an apple or a banana?)
- Alternatives can better describe dangerous situations (‘stop’, ‘danger’, ‘hot’)
The alternatives you choose to explore with will change over time as your child grows and develops more sophisticated cognitive functions. While they are young keep it simple and concrete. As they grow older you can begin to use more reasoning alternatives. With younger children the following alternatives can also be useful:
- Minimise the need for having to say ‘No’ – a young child’s job is exploration. As much as possible expose them to exploration friendly spaces.
- Use redirection – give them something else to play with or show them another part of the room.
- Use action words – ‘Let go of Joe’s hair’, ‘Stop kicking the desk’.
- Let them know what you want them to do, rather than what you don’t want them to do.
- Ask for the ‘rule’ – ‘Where do we draw?’ ‘Show me how we give soft cuddles’.
‘No’ does not need to be banished from your vocabulary. ‘No’ is an important word that most adults don’t use/use incorrectly because of an overexposure to it as a child. When you do choose to use the word make sure the meaning is clear and delivered with conviction.
Lastly, assess what is really important to you. Try not to limit your child’s exploration if it is not harmful. There will be many other opportunities to teach discipline.