“I just hate to see him so disappointed.” “The whining that follows is unbearable.” “It’s just easier to give in.” We have all been in situations where the thought of an impending tantrum is the last thing we want to experience. So, we end up saying statements such as, “Not sure”, “We will see”, “Later?” “Maybe”, “Well…” or even “Sure, but…”. These are all different ways that parents attempt to say “No” hoping to ward off the storm while their child remains calm. There is something so special about seeing your child happy and content. Should you avoid saying “No” to your child? Or, is it okay to say “No” to your child while still promoting positive discipline and maintaining your sanity?
What are the implications of using that tiny little word, “No” all the time?
For starters, the downside to saying “No” is that you may become overly reliant on that 2-letter word. This may lead to continued frustration on your child’s behalf. It isn’t always the most effective way to promote what you want the child to do or have them stop doing a behavior. Sure, we need to teach our kids to stop or not engage in a behavior, but when we only say “No”, we are not helping to teach them what they should in fact be doing. Overtime when a child is repeatedly given the same message it can desensitize them to its meaning and thus lose its effectiveness.
Establish rules to keep children safe and help teach appropriate behavior
According to Thomas W. Phelan, PhD, author of the book 1-2-3 Magic, Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, the ground rules for effective parenting involves two important qualities, 1) being warm and friendly, and 2) demanding and firm. At times you may feel like you are walking a tight rope as you try to balance between the two. This does not mean your parenting approach is to constantly say “No” a hundred times in a day nor does it mean saying “Yes” to everything. Both approaches can be tiresome and counterproductive for parents and the child.
When parents set limits on behaviors, we are allowing children to learn best through both our instructions as well as from their experiences. Try these positive parenting tips the next time you have the urge to avoid saying no or want to shout it out!
1. Validate your child’s feelings and state how you are feeling by using an “I” statement.
“I heard what you are saying and that you are mad. It makes me feel sad and hurt when I hear mean words because they hurt my feelings. I can help you feel better. Let’s use calm and friendly words to solve the problem.” A quick explanation will help your child feel heard and more receptive to your opinion.
Communication can be confusing. We communicate not only with our words but with our tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions. Our words say one thing and our body says another. We are sending unclear and confusing messages to our child. When speaking to your child, ensure that your verbal message matches what your non-verbal communication is saying.
2. Provide your child with alternative options.
Children may not know what to do instead and have a difficult time stopping certain behaviors. By offering suggestions, you are helping them understand that the current response is not acceptable and there are other possibilities that they can do to avoid getting into trouble. An example might be “No jumping in your bed, please. You can build with your blocks, read a story or get the craft box and we can do an art project together.”
3. Be specific. Avoid Saying Only “No”
Avoid saying “No, not right now.” This still leaves your child with unanswered questions and the potential to engage in problematic behaviors such as whining or protesting.
4. Give a reason why your answer is no.
“No, you cannot have a cookie before dinner, because it is almost dinner time and cookies are for dessert. Let’s put it on a napkin beside your plate for after dinner.” When we explain to a child our decision, we are promoting their communication and reasoning skills.
5. Consider offering a choice to your child.
“You can have a story after or before your brush your teeth. Which one do you choose?” Choices help children feel a sense of power and control over situations which reduce those unwanted power struggles that may occur.
Positive parenting, involves the occasional use of the word “No,” to teach our children lifelong skills around tolerating disappointment, frustration and delaying gratification. Saying no at times is okay! Try using different ways to communicate “No” to your child to help set limits, and teach acceptable behavior, all while keeping your cool.
So, should you avoid saying no to your child? My verdict is “No.”
- 1-2-3 Magic, effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas W. Phelan,
- Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children by Thomas Gordon