Just say “No!”
When to use “No! Stop! Don’t!”
Michigan State University Extension encourages a positive parenting approach emphasizing encouragement, positive redirection and other non-violent techniques. However, setting age-appropriate boundaries and having logical consequences are an important part of a parent’s job as well. After all, if you only encouraged your child and never corrected them, it might be a pretty scary world for us all.
Just saying “No!” does have some drawbacks, though. It is developmentally easier for younger children to understand when you tell them what to do, rather than having them reverse a negative. For example, “No jumping!” is more difficult for them to understand and comply. And do you really mean no jumping -ever? After all, kids are naturally jumpy, and once they start it is really hard to stop. Try a stern, “Keep your feet on the floor.”
Another problem with using words such as “No! Stop! Don’t!” especially with younger children, is that the commands can become less effective if overused. If you say “No! and Stop!” too often it can easily become background noise, like having the television on when no one is really watching it. I realized this myself as a mom. When my son was a toddler, I said no so much that apparently the other children thought it was part of his name. They started calling him No Paul!
Save “No! Stop! Don’t!” for the biggies, when safety is an issue. If your child is about to put their hand on the hot stove, you can sternly say, “Stop!” followed by “It’s hot and can hurt you.” If your child hits another child, it’s appropriate to say a stern, “No!” followed by, “Keep your hands to yourself!”
With older children who developmentally are driven to be defiant, you may need a different strategy than using “No! Stop! Don’t!” Teens are famous for ramping up the drama in a family with yelling, screaming and crying. This is in part due to raging hormones combined with a diminished capacity for logical thinking. Instead of yelling, “Don’t use that tone with me! I won’t even listen to you if you are yelling!”, try saying something more calm in a quiet but stern voice such as “Would you please lower your voice. I would really like to hear what you are saying, but it is difficult when you are yelling. Can we talk about it more calmly?”
In each stage, along with boundaries, remember that all actions have consequences. Without them, learning does not happen, and rules do not become a part of a child’s inner moral compass.
If your child continues to jump on the couch, even after you re-directed them, there should be a consequence. “Our family rule is no jumping on the couch. If you continue, you are choosing to lose five minutes of playtime.”
If your child continues to hit, even after you have given warnings and reminders, there should be a consequence. “You don’t seem to be able to keep your hands to yourself. You need to take a time out.”
If your teen continues to yell and scream, even after you have modeled calmness, there needs to be a consequence. “You seem to be too upset to talk about this right now. You need to go to your room, and you can come out when you are ready to talk about this more calmly.”
Parenting is a balance between encouragement and effective limit setting. Our children need us to be the safety net to their behavior and social expectations. Think about how you want them to behave. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and have clear expectations on behaviors. When children push a boundary, which is normal, be sure to have some logical, pre-set consequences to help both you and them to follow through with family and society expectations for appropriate behavior.