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What to Say to your Child Instead of "No”


Did you know that the average toddler can hear the word “no” an incredible 400 times a day? Telling our children “no” may seem like an easy way of disciplining them, however, being a naysayer can quickly become exhausting for parents. Most importantly, it may be detrimental to your child as it can breed resentment and rebellion. 

Overusing the word causes it to lose all of its power and our little ones will learn to tune us out and not listen anymore. When children understand that you don’t say “no” lightly, then they’re much more likely to actually listen to you. 

So, what can you do instead of outright telling a child “no”?

Focus on the positive

Instead of using negative language, rephrase words as a statement about what your child CAN DO rather than what they CAN’T do. By remaining positive, our children are more likely to pay attention to us. Example: 

Replace "No! Don't throw the sand!"⁠ with "Let's build a sandcastle" or "This is what you can build with the sand"⁠. 

Replace "No running in the house"⁠ with "We walk in the house please"⁠. 

Make them feel in control

Toddlers like to feel a sense of control and independence so instead of a flat out “no” when they ask for something e.g. a sweet treat, try offering a choice between two healthier options. For example, ask them if they would like some grapes or a banana. This method will make them feel like they have some control over the matter and can help prevent potential conflict.

Use distraction to your advantage

The attention span is incredibly short with toddlers so keep your phrases brief, clear and succinct using a redirection method.⁠ Redirecting them works much better than just saying “no” over and over again. For example, if your toddler is up on the couch and won’t listen to you: 

Replace ⁠"No! Don't climb on the couch. No jumping! Get down!" with "Here is something safe to climb on" and redirect them to that. 

Replace "No! Stop doing that!"⁠ with "Here's what you can do instead"⁠ or “That’s a great idea, maybe we will try that another time”. 

A clever way to redirect is by asking a question. For example, if you’re out grocery shopping and your toddler keeps grabbing items they shouldn’t be touching, you can divert their attention by saying “I wonder what we should have for lunch?” or “Shall we go find the escalator, you love riding on that!” instead. 

Be consistent 

Following through and repeating the above steps continuously can sometimes feel like a tiring task, but you have to be consistent with laying down the ground rules in order for the effect to be positive on your child. This will result in you teaching them about making wise decisions themselves rather than just obeying rules. You will be helping to set them up for the rest of their lives. 

It’s important to remember that although you don’t want to overuse the word “no”, it can sometimes be necessary for certain situations involving your child’s safety. Never saying “no” will leave our children ill-equipped for the real world. By not overusing “no”, it will have more power and meaning for when we really need it.

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