Tips for saying “No”

Hello to all of my fellow parents out there! As this is my very first blog post on this site (boo yah!), I wanted to throw out a few pointers that I’ve learned from working with so many different children and families over the years. The tips and examples I share in this one will be geared towards parents of young children, but the same principles apply to older kiddos as well. Saying “no” to your child is just, well, hard. When you say no, you have to back it up with both honesty and firmness, and sometimes that’s a battle we just don’t want to fight. If your kid is anything like mine, they are expert negotiators. Like if you need help on the next nuclear talks, America, you could call in my daughter. She will wear. you. down. I get it! At the same time, we want to raise our children to be functioning members of society and basically, to not be a**holes. Therefore, they have to learn that sometimes the answer is no, and they have to learn how to deal with that. Here are a few tips for participating in this fun part of parenting:

  • Pick your battles. This really applies to all ages, but in particular to the 3 and under crowd. If you find yourself basically like a broken record saying “no” all day long (“Don’t touch that! Stop yelling! No! You may not lick the lightbulb!”), choosing your battles is crucial. Pick a few things you will say “no” to and stick with those. These should be for dangerous behaviors: aggression of any kind (e.g., hitting, kicking, etc.), running away from you, climbing on the oven (or fridge, or whatever…why do our toddlers insist on being adorable little monkeys??). The rest of the time, refrain from “no.” Redirect, redirect, redirect. This leads me to bullet point number 2.


  • Tell them what to do instead of what not to do. Before I get into this, let’s play a little game. First, DON’T picture a white elephant! Ok, what did you think of? Maybe a white elephant? I told you not to! Ahhhh, see what I did there? I told you what not to do, but it got you thinking about it. Some of you fine readers probably did it anyway! Our kids are the same way. Direct them to what they should be doing instead. For example, your son throws a toy. Instead of saying, “don’t throw!” try giving him a replacement behavior. “Benjamin, can you place the toy on the ground? Watch mama place it (now show him how to place it gently). Great! Try it! Place it!” Try it. You will successfully not give attention to the negative behavior while teaching a safer, more socially appropriate behavior in its place. Go, girl! Go, boy! You got this!


  • No means no. How many times have we been taught this? And are we teaching this to our children? If your little one picks up on the fact that no means maybe, and they think they can negotiate their way to a yes, this makes for a tougher battle the next time (and the next time, and the next time after that). When you tell your child no, tell yourself, “I said no. That means no. Stick to it!” I still have to tell myself this, and I’m a trained professional (*puts head in hands*). It’s tough! However, teaching your children that you mean what you say will help to avoid the fall out when they think there’s a chance you may give in! This leads me to my next point…


  • Be prepared for negative behavior. If your child’s behavior tends to escalate when they hear “no,” let’s make a plan for how to deal with that. The best thing to do, in most situations, is hold your ground. Stay consistent, calm, and firm. Try teaching your child what behaviors are ok to display when they’re upset. Crying, sitting in a quiet area, taking deep breaths, doing a puzzle (or another calming, distracting activity), speaking respectfully to ask for clarification – all behaviors that are totally cool. Screaming, any kind of aggression, running away, throwing things – NOT. COOL. When your child is calm, it can be very helpful to review what behaviors are okay and not okay. This can teach them to self-regulate when they’ve just been told something they didn’t want to hear.

I hope you have some parenting wins today. If you’re struggling in this area, know that parenting is challenging. And also amazing and lovely and the best job EVER. But still, challenging. So grab a glass of wine, put your feet up, and think about something you did well for your kids today, and something your kids did that made you proud to be their caregiver. Happy parenting!



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