A while ago i stumbled across a very interesting article on the effects of using the word ‘no’ too often when dealing with a child. Two little letters, but such a powerful word!
It’s actually been proven that hearing (or speaking) the word ‘no’ changes the way our brain functions. When hearing the word ‘no’ our brain releases a flood of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters, which has a profound impact on the way our brain functions. These chemicals interrupt the normal functioning of the brain and impair logic, reason, language processing, and communication.
Considering the fact that the average toddler hears the word ‘no’ around 400 times a day, and considering the impact that overuse of that little word can have on both parent and child, i’d say it’s time to find a different way to deal with the ups and downs of parenting. Children that hear ‘no’ too often show higher levels of frustration and anxiety, and poorer language skills than children whose parents offer positive feedback, and while toddlers and young children definitely need boundaries, rules and regulations, sometimes we forget that our kids are little people too. They go through ups and downs in their days just the same way we do. They have emotions and opinions, and to complicate things even further, they’re only starting to figure out how to express them.
By finding a creative ways to deter or discipline our children without relying on the word ‘no’, we save ourselves and our children from unnecessary stress and frustration, and give the word ‘no’ back its power. After all, if a child hears the word ‘no’ all the time, they’re quickly going to become desensitized to the word. Holster the ‘no’ and save it for serious occasions!
So, how do we break out of the ‘yes’/’no’ tug-of-war? Here are 15 ways to say ‘no’ so that your child won’t even know you’re saying ‘no’.
1. Agree – Yes, i know this may sound strange, but imagine this scenario… The family’s about to sit down to dinner, and your toddler starts asking for ice-cream. Instead of saying “No, not before dinner!” you say “Sure sweetie, you can have ice-cream as soon as you’re done with your dinner.”. The decision has not changed, you’ve just presented the answer to your child in a way that’s less upsetting.
2. Offer an alternative – “You already had some ice-cream after lunch. How about some fruit salad instead?”. By offering your child something that’s comparable (in their mind) instead of refusing their request outright, you remove the need for your child to act out or get angry at your decision.
3. Offer a choice – “Tell you what, i can see you’re really craving candy, but we’re about to eat dinner, and candy will ruin your appetite. You can either have 1 piece of candy now, or 5 pieces after dinner. You choose.” By acknowledging your child’s feelings (the candy craving) and stating just the facts in a non-combative way, you provide your child with the information they need to make their choice. If they choose to have 1 piece of candy before dinner, then stick to that – yes, i know, it’s going to be difficult those first couple of times, but stick with it and watch the magic happen!
4. Show and tell – “Gently… Look, this is how we…” Children are young and innocent, and still learning. Often, the behavior that elicits a ‘no!’ from us parents is not ‘bad behavior’ at all. If your toddler is smacking the cat, use you hands and words and show your child how to stroke the cat gently. By offering simple guidance we correct the offending behavior without judgement, and teach our child a more appropriate way to behave.
5. Explain – “Food is for eating, not for throwing.” If your toddler grabs the plate of delicious mac and cheese that you’ve just made them for lunch and flings it across the room, of course, first instinct is going to be to yell “No!”. Offering your child a simple explanation as to why his behavior is unacceptable in a calm, collected manner can help them understand why they need to stop that behavior.
6. Distract – This is probably the oldest trick in the book, and it’s a good one, although, it definitely has an expiry date. The older your child gets, the more likely they are to stick to their guns, so make use of this one while you still can! The next time your child starts asks for something that they can’t have, try throwing out a fantastic statement to grab their attention (“Oh, Honey, look! There goes a squirrel! Should we come up with a name for him?”), and just carry on until they’ve forgotten the initial request. Sneake? Maybe… But it avoids an argument, and gets the job done!
7. Enlist the ‘help’ of other authority figures – “Ooohh… Ice-cream before dinner? I’m pretty sure Dr Blah Blah said we can’t do that. Next time we go, remind me and we’ll check, but for now, rather safe than sorry.” There are many fantastic options here – teacher, dentist, librarian, or policeman – depending on the question. You’ll be surprised how effective this technique can be!
8. Take their side – “Ice-cream? Oohh, that sounds good. How i wish there wasn’t a rule about ice-cream before dinner!”. Sometimes, just having someone agree with them about the validity of their request is enough make a child feel better. Make sad faces, comfort each other and move on.
9. Give in to the request, but with a condition – “Here are a couple of candies. We’re going to put them in this bowl and keep them right here where you can see them until you’re done eating. Finish up all your dinner, then tell me when you’re done, and you can have the candies.” This tactic is a tricky one, though, because you need to hold strong – don’t let it turn into a negotiation about the candies!
10. Let someone else break the rules – “Mommies really can’t give out ice-cream before dinner, only Grandpapies sometimes can. Next time we go to Granny and Grandpa’s house, why don’t we ask them?” Your child will hear that the rule cannot be broken today, and should be able to move on with something else. Obviously, this can be tricky if Granny and Grandpa live nearby, and if you see them all the time, you may want to run it by them first 😉 .
11. Acknowledge the request and offer hope – “Oh, yes, ice-cream would be lovely. I wish we could have some, but we can’t today. I’m going to remember how much you like ice-cream, and plan a special trip to the ice-cream store real soon!” By acknowledging that your child’s feelings are appropriate, and offering hope that the request will be granted in the future, you turn what could be a negative experience into an exercise of validation and understanding.
12. Get playful – Sometimes the best response is to throw up your arms, growl like a monster and start chasing you little one around the room. “Did you really just ask for ice-cream before dinner? Oh oh, this monster eats kids that ask for ice-cream before dinner! Roar!”. A little laughter can go a long way to defusing the situation.
Of course, when you have a toddler in the house, saying ‘no’ becomes second nature. Don’t worry if you find yourself slipping up – the goal is to include as many alternatives into your daily life as possible. Not only will you see the difference in your child, you’ll feel it inside yourself too!