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10 Alternatives to Saying No to Your Child

Results of a study published by Redbook magazine found that the average toddler hears the word “no” up to 400 times each day. Sources cited in their research also showed that kids who are repeatedly subjected to the word “no” without further explanation tend to have less advanced language skills than peers who experience positive feedback. Rather than subjecting your child to a barrage of negative words, experts like author Howard Gardner suggest that you adopt more positive redirection techniques. These 10 phrases can help you say no to your child without actually responding negatively.

  1. “Let’s Trade!” – Rather than snatching an object out of your child’s hand with a stern reprimand to assert ownership, try handing her an acceptable item with the proposal of trading. You’re still removing the initial item from her grasp, but you aren’t as likely to become embroiled in a power struggle with a headstrong child.
  2. “That’s Dangerous.” – Your toddler needs to know why she’s not allowed to touch certain items, rather than simply being commanded to ignore them. Instead of making a dangerous item even more alluring because it’s mysteriously forbidden, explain to your little one that she’s not allowed to touch the stove because it’s dangerous.
  3. “Let’s Look at This!” – Sometimes, the most effective way to get a determined child to abandon a forbidden activity is to redirect her attention altogether. Rather than continually separating her from a bad situation and telling her “no,” try to find an acceptable alternative that will hold her attention.
  4. “Why Don’t We…” – You can tell your child that he’s not allowed to do something with no further explanation or offer alternative suggestions, but you’ll probably find that he’s much more susceptible to redirection techniques than outright refusal. Offer reasonable, attractive alternatives when he asks for permission to do something you’d rather him avoid.
  5. “Yes, Later.” – Sometimes, all a child needs to know is that she will eventually be allowed to do the thing she’s asking about or to have the item she’s seeking. Instead of telling her that she can’t watch a video, let her know that she can watch it at a later time.
  6. “That Hurts People and Makes Them Sad.” – Hitting and biting are par for the course with a toddler, and they’re generally not receptive to the same negative reprimands they hear all day. Explaining the consequences of aggression, like hurting people and making them sad, gives your child a clear understanding of why it’s not okay.
  7. “I Know You Love Candy, But You Won’t Feel Well if You Eat Too Much.” – When a child is begging for a second chocolate bar or trying to gorge herself on a big Halloween haul, explaining to her that overeating has negative repercussions is usually more effective than just telling her she’s not allowed to have more.
  8. “Use Your Words.” – Temper tantrum are a fairly effective method of expressing displeasure, but they’re usually filled with wails and shouts rather than actual words. Letting your child know that he must use his words to elicit a response from you can nip a tantrum in the bud much faster than threats or reprimands.
  9. “I’m Sorry, I Can’t Understand You When You Speak That Way. Let’s Use our Big-Girl Voice.” – Whining is a fairly natural response when your child is tired, hungry or not feeling well, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to hear. Try telling your child that you can’t understand her properly when she whines and that a “big-girl” voice will help her make the point more clearly. It’s much more effective than, “no whining!”
  10. “I’m Coming to Get You!” – Sometimes, all a little one needs to distract her from problem behavior is a good belly laugh. Assuming the mantle of a tickle-monster that’s coming to get her or instigating a fun game of chase can help her forget all about a forbidden activity, instead focusing on the good time at hand.

Avoiding overuse of “no” doesn’t mean that you should forgo limits in favor of giving your little one free reign. In fact, using positive language to offer a negative response can still establish strong boundaries without diminishing the effectiveness of the word “no.” Breaking the habit will require a bit of patience and effort, but the results you’ll see will almost certainly be well worth the effort.

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