Gaining cooperation from a young child: more than just saying “no”

Learn some alternatives to “no” that you can use with preschool children.

There are ways to teach your child ways to cooperate without overusing the word

There are ways to teach your child ways to cooperate without overusing the word "no."

The word “no” often becomes common place in a parent’s vocabulary about the time a baby gains mobility and he or she learns to creep or crawl. As a baby develops his small and large motor skills and begins to reach, pull herself up, walk and then run, parents and caregivers often find themselves using the word “no” first for safety and later as an admonition to stay away from something they don’t want a child to touch, eat or ingest.

A survey by the University of California, Los Angeles reported a one year-old child may hear the word “no” an average of 400 times a day. This may sound like a lot but when you think of how many times you repeat the word when you are trying to make a point, the total sounds reasonable. “No, don’t go by the fire. No, no, no, I said no!” In that one sentence a toddling preschooler heard the word five times!

Are there ways to teach your young child right from wrong and ways to cooperate without overusing the word “no?” Michigan State University Extension offers some alternatives to using the word “no” that may work for you when you are attempting to discipline, deter a child from an unwanted activity or deny an unreasonable request.

  • Offer a choice. Instead of “No, you can’t have a cookie now,” you could suggest, “You sound hungry. Did you want a piece of fruit or cheese with crackers?” When your preschool is running through the grocery store and you have screamed “don’t run” ten times, you could ask if he wants to hold on to your grocery cart or ride in the cart. If he lets go of the cart, you then put him in the cart seat and say you see that he has chosen to ride.
  • Say “yes” more often. Instead of “no movie” you might respond with, “Yes, you may watch your movie after you pick up your toys,” or “Not tonight, we will have time to watch your movie tomorrow.” Instead of “No cookie or you’ll spoil your dinner,” you could say, “Yes, you may have a cookie after we finish dinner.” Most children are prepared to fight a “no” and are puzzled by a “yes, later.”
  • Tell kids what they can do! Parents and caregivers often spend a lot of time and energy informing children of all the things they can’t do. Think instead of what you would let them do and then communicate it to them clearly. Author Elizabeth Crary in her book Without Spanking or Spoiling says, “Some children can’t stop what they are doing….because they don’t know what to do instead.”
  • Think about your response before you give it. Parents and caregivers sometimes say “no” because it is an easy response. Give yourself a minute to decide if the answer if really “no” or if you could offer an alternative. Be prepared to tell a child why you are saying no, such as “Eating a cookie for breakfast is not a healthy choice. You need to choose a fruit or a protein.”
  • Limit your use of “no.” Saying “no” too often can cause a child to ignore the response. Children become desensitized to hearing “no” because they hear it so often and it often doesn’t really mean “no.” Try some of the ideas above before you say “no.”

Children do need to hear “no” when its use is intended to keep them safe or to prevent them from a behavior that could harm themselves or another person, living thing or the environment. However, use it sparingly, stay positive and practice ways to say “yes” to appropriate behaviors.

Related Events

Related Articles