8 ways to say ‘No’ to kids without saying no

Zofishan Umair
Zofishan Umair
Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 29, 2023 · 5 mins read

Unless you want your child’s first word to be ‘No’ (and trust me, you don’t), it’s a good idea to steer far away from this two-letter word. According to one study, the word “no” is one of the 10 most frequent first words. These include mummy, daddy, ball, bye, hi, no, dog, and baby. However, that doesn’t mean you have to go all Jennifer Garner in ‘Yes Day’ on your kids. You just have to play around with your strategy.

What Are 8 Ways To Say No?

“No hitting.”
“I told you, no running in the house.”
“No, you can’t play here.”

Even as I type these basic instructions, I can see how annoying they can be. When you say “no” and add an instruction to it, it just tells the child what they cannot do. Not what they should do instead or why they can’t do what they are doing.

It also creates a negative impact on the child because the human brain is designed to remember the negative. So unfortunately, when we hear the word “no,” our brain releases a stress-producing hormone.

This is why it is important to say “no” without saying no. Here’s how:

1. What’s a Way to Say No Without Saying No?

So your kid wants to go to preschool in his Superman costume for the third consecutive day this week? It has chocolate stains from Monday and strawberry marks from Tuesday’s lunch. And now you just have to put your foot down.

Here’s what you can do: meet them halfway.
Instead of saying no, you can tell them they can wear just the cape or the mask.

2. Offer a “fun” Alternative

It stinks to not be able to make your own decisions. A great and fun way to get your toddler to do what you want him to do is to play it smart and make that option fun.

“How about instead of dressing up as Superman, we dress up as Clark Kent? I can style your hair the same way. Here’s what he wears when he wants to hide his secret identity. Then, when you come home, you can be superman-just like him!”

3. Offer Options

A toddler is like a power-hungry adult. They want to make their own decisions because they have spent the past 2 years literally being picked up and placed in a different corner of the room.

They have absolutely had it and now want to be independent and in control of their lives.

Sure, you still have to drive them around and change their nappies, but that doesn’t mean you get to call the shots on EVERYTHING.

Let them win occasionally by giving them options to choose from:
Which shirt do you want to wear today?
Do you want to play outside, or do you want to colour?

Let them have the control they seek.

4. Let Them Figure it Out

Sometimes your child will make the weirdest request, and instead of refusing it outright, you could let them figure it out for themselves. Turn it around and ask them if they can.

“Mummy, Can we get a pet bunny? “

Your brain’s response:
“No, because those tiny things make 200-300 poops per day which is a lot of cleaning and responsibility. ”

However, you don’t share these thoughts yet. Instead, you let them come to their own conclusion:

Here’s what you say instead:
“I don’t know. Can you take care of one and clean up after it?”
“Yes, I can.”
“Okay, then how about you make sure you feed the dog and clean up after it for a whole week, and then we can discuss getting a bunny.

Spoiler Alert: By Day 3, the bunny was forgotten.

5. Spell it Out for the Adrenaline Junkie

To be fair, as parents, approximately 80% of our job is to ensure the human race survives on planet Earth.

“No, please, my sneakers are not edible.”
“Please do NOT put that fork in the electrical socket.”
“No, you have to sit in the back of your car seat.”

Because if there is a lesson, we can learn from the inquisitive feline, is that being curious can get you killed. And a curious toddler needs to be watched like a hawk!

One minute they’re playing with overpriced non-toxic, eco-friendly, and PVC-friendly blocks, and the next they’ve climbed the marble counters or have unplugged a lamp.

Here’s what you can say instead:
“Ewww, that shoe is disgusting. Let’s put it back in the shoe rack and wash our hands.”

And just pretty much baby-proof your entire house.

6. Distract Them

I’m not particularly fond of this method, but hey, when push comes to shove, you gotta do what you’ve got to do.

For example, if your child insists on more screen time, you can try to divert their attention with other enjoyable activities. Ignore the requests and begin playing with their favourite finger paints or race track.

7. Save Your No’s and Mean it

Save your no’s and be serious when you mean them. Only whip them out when you really have to put to foot down or its an urgency–like the fork in the socket. I mean if you’re just tossing them left, right, and centre, they won’t hold that meaning anymore.

8. Respect and Acknowledge Their No’s

This last one is the most important, and I think it’s one we overlook as parents.

If we don’t take their refusal to do something seriously, it is unfair to expect our children to do the same. Teaching kids to say no is as important as asking them to respect our no.

When they say no, you need to give it the same weight because this small lesson today will help define strong boundaries tomorrow

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