Children are inquisitive, curious, funny and they have a knack for adventure which can lead to the conundrum of having to tell your child “no” more often than not. As parents, many of us enjoy observing them and take pleasure and watching them learn and grow. But what are we to do when they begin dabbling in something dangerous or doing something they shouldn’t be doing? Naturally, we tell them “No,” but it can leave us feeling that slight pang of guilt in doing so.
Take my little sister’s child for example: he is a year and a half old, and he is all cheekiness and smiles….UNTIL you tell him “no.” It doesn’t matter what it is he is doing, if you tell him “No,” one of two things happens:
- he cries very loudly for a period of time (usually for 5-10 minutes);
- he gives you “the silent treatment” and doesn’t acknowledge your existence.
I have to say, I have never seen a toddler participate in passive-aggressiveness like this little guy, and though I find it amusing (and he does eventually get over it within 30 minutes or so), it got me to thinking how we can tell our children “No,” in a loving way.
Ways To Tell Your Child No Without Saying “No”
DON’T say no to what you don’t want, say yes to what you DO want!
This particular example is only good for certain situations. For example, when my daughter was little she sometimes wanted a cookie for breakfast. Being a health-conscious mom, I never gave her cookies for breakfast, but I also never told her no. I would instead say, “Sure sweety, you can have a cookie after you eat your lunch.” She seemed pleased with this answer for the most part until she realized later on that it meant she wasn’t going to get what she wanted immediately… But hey! It worked for a while.
The whole point of this tip is that children are often told “no” numerous times a day, and it feels good when mommy and daddy say “yes.” As stated above, this doesn’t work for all scenarios: if your child is running out into one of the busy streets in Springfield, Mo, you may need to get your mom-voice on to keep them safe. You won’t say, “Honey, stay on the sidewalk,” if they are already out in the middle of the road chasing a ball. Nope, your survival instincts will kick in and in your deepest, loudest most severe expression of relentless communication, you will scream at them to get out of the street. I have had to do this on more than one occasion myself. But for the less-dangerous scenarios, instead of saying “no” to what you don’t want, say “yes” to what you do want!
Instead of saying “no,” tell them why that particular thing they are doing is NOT in their highest interest.
This worked really well in my family, and my little sister does this with her son. Instead of saying “no” without explaining why, instead try saying something to the effect of, “That is hot,” or “That is dangerous.” Children are very smart. Even if they are a few months old, they often understand the essence of what mommy or daddy is saying even if they can’t formulate the words themselves.
As parents, we don’t always have to tell our children “no.” As they reach for that hot cup you can say to them, “be careful, that might hurt you” instead of blurting out that involuntary “no” or “stop!” Naturally, if they are doing something dangerous that could result in a serious injury, a sudden and sharp “No” may be just the thing that stops them from imminent peril.
Give Your Kiddo a Choice
Another tried and true tactic for my household was providing a choice. This worked especially well when it came to vegetables. “Darling, you can have carrots or cucumbers: which one do you want?” At first, your child may not like the options, but giving them the power to make a decision for themselves is empowering and it helps their self-esteem. Over time, my daughter started rummaging through the fridge and decided to try bell peppers, lettuce and tomatoes instead of carrots and cucumbers. When I would ask whether she wanted carrots or cucumbers, she would negotiate instead to try another veggie. While part of this is a way of her testing her limits, it was one I was willing to participate in as a mom.
If All Else Fails, Give a Suggestion as a Replacement for Unwanted Behavior
Let’s face it: no matter what, most children usually go through some kind of phase where they test your limits. You tell them to stop, and they keep doing whatever it is they are doing. I used to work in a school in Malaysia, and one really cool thing we put into practice was providing an alternate behavioral scenario. In one particular case, there was a little boy with autism who had an issue hitting other children. Instead of telling him “no” and getting onto him, we would ask him, “What are hands for? Hands are for loving! Why not hug your friend?” Not only did this work well, but over time he stopped hitting the other children. Offering a suggestion instead of automatically saying, “Stop it,” or “no,” or bad provides a more positive avenue of communication.
In summary, there are several ways you can tell your child no without saying no. Let us know if you have some suggestions or methods that have worked with you and your children!
Love and hugs,
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