Are there problems with just saying “NO” to kids?

Try using these alternatives to using “no” with your kids.

“Just say NO!” We have all heard, or used, this common phrase from every topic ranging from child rearing to adolescents and drug use.  The word “no” usually surfaces in child rearing about the age of 6-8 months when a baby is beginning to reach for things or explore their world by creeping or crawling. Electric cords invite a “no, don’t touch.” Exploring the fireplace, stove, sharp objects and breakables can elicit a firm no, usually without an explanation of why the item in question is off limits.

Some experts claim that the average toddler hears the word no 400 times a day! We often say no to children as a way to restrict them from unsafe or harmful things, but what does the child hear? The word no makes it sound like everything fun, shiny, new and unusual is off limits. Is this what we really want our children to think? Is there another way to teach children what we want as opposed to what we don’t want? Is there a problem with saying no?

Think about the children in your life as they grow and develop. Think of how many times you use the word no without even really knowing why you said it. Can you use the word no too much? Michigan State University Extension suggests the following issues may arise when adults just say no to everything.

  • When kids hear no routinely, they may begin to tune parents out. The word no” can lose its power from overuse.
  • “No” can sound like a challenge to a strong-willed child. “I’ll do it but they won’t catch me.”
  • Using no all the time can make the world seem like a scary place. Children may begin to see themselves as unable to make their own decisions without your input.

Author Barbara Coloroso in her book, “Kids are Worth It,” recommends three easy alternatives to no that parents and caregivers can put to work without any training and a little practice. Try one of these suggestions the next time you are tempted to say no.

  1. “Yes, later.” When a child asks for something that you feel is a poor choice (“May I have a soda?”), we often respond spontaneously with a vehement “No.” The phrase, “Yes, later,” gives the child permission to do what they asked; just not now. They will be allowed to have a soda when you feel it is appropriate; a special treat, at an outing or during a movie.
  2. “Give me a minute” or “Let me think about that.” Adults often say no because they haven’t had time to think about the response and come up with a well thought out reply. Kids today are used to instant gratification through their interactions with internet, social media and fast food experiences. There is value in teaching children that not everything can be decided in a split second. It is important to formulate a response where you have considered options. “Soda isn’t a good choice with your meal, what might be another alternative?”
  3. “That’s an interesting request,” “Let’s think about that” or “Convince me.” Discussing a child’s request can provide information they may not have considered or vice versa. It can also give your insight on why they are making a request and whether you may need to set a limit. Saying no as a knee-jerk reaction limits your ability to negotiate and teach a life lesson.

In many cases today, “no” does not mean “no” because we have given in after a child’s meltdown or an adolescent tirade about how mean we are (“All my friends get to do it”). Children learn at an early age when your no doesn’t really mean no; for example, “If I cry or throw a tantrum, she’ll give in!” There is a time and place for no. Make sure that when you actually need to say no, you know why you are saying it. Use the word no for the big stuff and try alternatives to no on the rest.

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