The 3 Golden Rules for Saying “No” to Your Child

saying "no"

So many parents struggle with setting limits. The simple act of saying “no” can seem exhausting because you must usually repeat it about 50 gazillion times. And then there’s the not listening. Here are my three golden rules for how to say “no” and mean it:


1. Don’t Say “No”

Counter-intuitive right? I’m not kidding though. The funny thing is that the youngest of children seem to hear “yes” when you say “no”. And it isn’t because their hearing is off.

For this reason, Dr. Maria Montessori believed that positive language should be used when talking to children. If you’re wondering what that means, basically it means saying “Walk, please” instead of “Don’t run!”  So, you’re still saying “no”, but they’re not hearing the “run” part which is exactly what they’ll want to keep doing.

2. Set a Limit You’ll Keep

Lately with my little peanut, our limit is counting to 10. He’s got 10 seconds to take care of the problem on his own, or I’ll help him do it. Examples?

  • “Play gently with your sister…or I’ll help you play somewhere else.” Whack! There goes the stuffed animal again right in her face. “Ten seconds, pumpkin or we’ll move somewhere else.”
  • “Put the riding toy away now, it’s too loud.” He continues to ride. “You have 10 seconds to put it away by yourself or I will help you…1…2…3…”

Obviously counting to 10 doesn’t work for everything. So, I often use another strategy that equally sets a limit. For this one, it’s often due to a case of whiny “if I continue to badger mama she’ll eventually give in and it’s because I really want some candy or ice cream and I’m probably a little bit tired so I can’t think of anything else to do and I wanna whiiiiiiine.” Sound familiar?  For THOSE situations I break out this fantastic answer:

“I’m all done answering that question. You heard me.”

Then, I zip it and don’t respond to the issue anymore. If peanut has a fit after that, it’s up to him.

Following a fit or tantrum, I try to connect with him in a positive way. For example, find something to laugh about together, offer to read a book or do some art.

Now, the secret to this second limit-setting rule is that you HAVE to keep your promise. So, a consequence of throwing your kid out the window, not an option. But, if you threaten to remove TV privileges, you’d better follow through.

However, the best options are directly related to the behavior. With young children, you can often gently help them comply. With older children, sometimes a fair warning about potential natural consequences, and then letting these happen, is the best medicine. For example, not helping with laundry could result in running out of clothes to wear. Or, having a messy room could result in losing  things.

3. Say Why

Kids want to know why. Although they might not agree with you in the moment, knowing why you’re saying “no” can help them learn. Perhaps you’re saying “no” because what your child is doing isn’t safe. Or, perhaps it isn’t healthy. Explaining why the answer is “no” can sometimes help.

These are my golden rules for saying “no”, or getting that message across anyway, to my kids. What are yours?

Need more ideas on how to hold your ground? Read my post about how to avoid undermining yourself as a parent.

Photo Credit: photo “I’m seeing you!” via photopin  license 

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