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The Art of Saying No to Your Child

The “talk to the hand” strategy simply isn’t going to cut it.
The “talk to the hand” strategy simply isn’t going to cut it.

No. It’s one of the simplest words in the English language, and yet, it’s one of the hardest to say. Though, that’s debatable once a toddler picks up the ‘no’ word. In fact, many parents can vouch their toddler repetitively says no once it enters their vocabulary. However, for adults, whether it’s in the workplace or dealing with children, saying no can be difficult. Especially when those big cute eyes pleadingly stare up at you or worse yet, when the arms flail and a temper tantrum ensues.

Here are 10 guidelines in mastering the art of saying no to your kids:

  Set up ground rules. Sit down with your partner and evaluate the non-negotiable’s. Then sit down with your child to explain the ground rules or post them on a decorated poster board in an easy-to-spot place. It’s important for everyone to be on the same page to minimize frustration later.

  Tone is absolutely everything.  Remember that time when you took a picture of someone smiling, and found yourself behind the camera smiling? Or is that every time? Attitude is contagious. What’s more, children are extremely perceptive. They can easily sense when you are becoming frustrated with them. Take a breath, and address their behavior using a softer, more positive, voice. They will be more likely to respond to you. On the other hand, instead of engaging in a battle of ‘no’s’, using a stern voice is just as satisfactory in reprimanding their behavior.

  Don’t postpone. If the answer is no and will be no, don’t delay in saying so. “We’ll see” or “Maybe later” adds hope when inevitably the answer is no, setting up your little one for even more disappointment. This mantra is one I wish everyone would follow: Say what you mean and mean what you say.

  Do not engage. You don’t always have to explain your reasoning to the tenth degree. It is important to justify why the answer is no so that they will understand. However, keep it short and simple. The “but, why?” is never-ending as it is, so even if you do give a sufficient answer, it’ll never be enough.  Why even go there?

  Develop “the look”. We all have one; it’s just a matter of putting it into practice. Instead of constantly saying no, a glare will be sufficient in expressing your disapproval. Soon enough your child will understand that “the look” is the signal to stop what they are doing. This is especially useful in a public setting to avoid embarrassing your child.

  Offer choices. Instead of telling your child what not to do, tell him what he can do instead. Rather than initiating a yelling match about playing soccer in the house. Simply say, “Soccer is not meant to be played inside the house, either go outside to play or find something else to do.”

  Model behavior you would like. Whether big or small, children will inevitably mimic your behavior, so strive to be the best role model you can be. Particularly for toddlers, instead of yelling ‘no’ to the less than gentle “petting” of the family dog, grab their hand and show them how gentle they need to be. Young children are exploratory and often need guidance in what to do and how to do it. So instead of reprimanding, help them.

  Say yes to say no. With the overuse of “no”, kids can go one of two ways. The simple phrase can immediately result in a full-fledged tantrum or complete indifference as they’ve heard it all before. Spinning the ‘no’ in a positive way can assist in their reaction. For example, if you are running errands and your child begs for that ice cream cone she spotted, simply say “Yes, you can have dessert after dinner, but right now we are shopping.”

  Lose the guilt and move on. Remember, kids are quick to forget. While you may still feel frazzled and guilty for saying no, they are occupying themselves with a toy in the backseat on the drive home. Take a page out of your child’s book and put it behind you.

While the art of saying no is hard to master, it’s crucial in your child’s development and future demeanor. Trust me, it will help you in the long run, and your child’s future teachers will thank you!

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