How To Stop Saying No and Still Get Good Behavior


“No! Stop throwing your food!”

“No rollerblading in the house!”

“No eating snack before dinner.”

If you’re a parent of young children, uttering the word “no” is probably just as much of an impulse as using your reflexes: spontaneous and quick, a rote reaction to setting limits and preventing your youngsters from running amok and creating havoc. Hearing the word “no” is essential for children to learn how to delay their own gratification and follow rules set by others. However, the word “no” is in danger of being overused by frustrated moms all over the world, and in turn, children learn to tune out when hearing you utter the command for the tenth time in an hour.

If repeating commands over and over to get your children to listen sounds at all familiar to you, then read on! Learning to set restrictions in a positive manner without actually saying “no” will prove to be more effective and less tiresome for you and your children.


  • Balance, Balance, Balance!


As with most things in life, finding the right balance is imperative to wholesome, satisfactory living. That being said, there is nothing wrong with simply saying “no” to your child. The question is, how often do you say “no”? Start by paying attention to how much time you spend saying “no” (or yelling) in response to your children’s actions or requests. You may find that you are a more permissive parent who actually needs to create more structure and boundaries in the home by saying “no.” Or, you may find that your children view you as “the boy who cried wolf” and have come to ignore your many “no” commands. Either way, following the guidelines for positive restrictions will be helpful in guiding you towards a disciplined approach to parenting.


  • Rephrase/Explain:


According to experts, the average toddler will hear the word “no” about 400 times a day! Consequently, toddlers who just hear the word “no” without receiving any sort of feedback develop poorer expressive language skills than their counterparts who do get feedback. As an alternative, try to explain to your toddler the reasoning behind your refusal. For example, instead of simply saying “no” to a toddler who requests snack before dinner, rephrase by saying, “You can have a snack after your dinner. Would you like an apple instead?” Or “Food is for eating, not for throwing.” The same holds true for older children. Instead of yelling “No jumping!” at a pre-school age child, try firmly stating, “Beds are made for sleeping, not jumping.”


  • Offer Choices


Children who hear the word “no” too often frequently feel invalidated and consequently, frustrated. This causes them to act out in a negative manner such as sulking, yelling, or acting aggressively. Offering your child alternatives to his request can often save the day. Start by empathically validating the request: “I know you really want to play on your tablet now.” Then, offer alternatives: “How about you quickly finish your homework? This way, you can have a half hour before bed to play.” Or, “I know how badly you want that toy, I really do. How do you think you can earn it instead?”


  • Try Humor


Children generally respond better to a parent who exhibits a playful demeanor. This is especially true for younger children who are easily distracted. Put on a silly voice or pretend to be someone else – maybe the tickle monster? Anything at all that gets your little one laughing. This works primarily because staying connected to your child during a tense moment will create an atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration.

  • Get Creative

Try to get creative in the way you choose to say” no.” We’ve always found the use of a code word to be effective, without allowing the problem to get confrontational. For example, have your child choose a code word to signify the word “no” or “we’ll discuss this later.” Your child may choose, for example, the color blue which to her embodies the notion of peace and calm. When you use the code word “blue” during a tense moment, your child will understand that you would like her to calm down before discussing the topic further. Some parents find visual reminders to be useful in prompting their child to behave in a specific manner. If you child is a frequent couch-jumper, try posting a picture nearby of a child jumping, with a large “x” across it.


  • Prevention is Key


Try to preempt situations in which you anticipate having to say “no.” Before entering a toy store with your child, review your toy store rules, or review your screen-time rules with your child as soon as (s)he gets off the bus to prevent a media-related meltdown later. If the meltdown occurs despite your best intentions, calmly yet firmly remind your child about your discussion.


  • Teach empathy


Lastly, instead of yelling at a child or simply stating “no,” try to point out how his/her actions can be hurtful. “Your brother can get hurt when you throw the ball in his direction. Let’s try to throw it elsewhere.” Or, “Biting your friend is making him cry and he’s feeling really sad. Please stop.” Remember that depending on the developmental level of your child, he may simply not understand that what he is  doing is wrong. It is our job as parents to teach and guide.

Finding a happy medium is always crucial when attempting to implement a new parenting technique. Using the word “no” should not suggest an authoritative, harsh style of parenting. By the same token, refraining from using the word “no” should not enable permissive parenting on your part. On the contrary, utilizing the suggestions stated above should assist you in taking a more disciplined, balanced approach to ensure that the word “no” is used in its most effective and operational form.

Feeling overwhelmed? Call 516.340.0288 to schedule a free phone consultation. Or, email us at for more info on our ongoing parenting workshops.

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