Why Kids Really Need to Hear the Word ‘No’

Libby Kane
Posted

No.

It’s a little word with a lot of influence, especially for parents.

“No, you cannot have that $50 toy truck.”
“No, you may not skip dinner.”
“No, you may not color on the table.”

Maybe it’s because of what happens after we say the word “no” (you know, the screaming and tantrum-throwing) that we skirt around it, try to disguise it and sometimes just don’t say it all.

“News flash: Kids need you to say ‘no,’” says Lori Freson, M.A., a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Children are not emotionally or developmentally equipped to make major decisions or rules, or to self-regulate. That’s your job. And if you don’t do it, your child will feel a sense of confusion and internal chaos, which could manifest itself in stomach aches, headaches, tantrums and even ulcers.”

The other reason it’s so important you get good at saying “no”? A constant stream of “yes” can easily lead to you raising a spoiled child, which is damaging both financially and psychologically.

That’s why it’s a big deal every time you dodge “no” for the more kid-friendly “here, get distracted by this ice pop.” But, we all know, putting your foot down can be harder than it seems.

Which is why we turned to the experts for seven strategies on how to say “no”—and make it stick.

1. Find an Appropriate Redirect

Instead of focusing on no, “find what the child can do,” advises Brandi Davis, a child and family coach. For instance, a child who wants to blow bubbles in the house can be redirected with “We can blow bubbles outside or in the garage instead.” A child who wants a cookie can be redirected with “You can have a piece of cheese or an apple.” This method works (as opposed to the “swap-one-treat-for-another” version mentioned above) because it presents a viable, acceptable alternative to the unwanted action, and lets the child feel that instead of forbidding something, you’re actually giving him an option.

2. Ply Them With Questions

“When raising my daughters, I let them have what they wanted in their imagination,” said Linda Lovero-Waterhouse, mom of three. “
For example, say we passed by McDonald’s and they begged to go, but I
 had dinner planned at home. After saying ‘no’ and
 hearing complaints, I would ask them if we had gone to McDonald’s,
 what would they have ordered? Which kids’ meal? Ketchup or no ketchup? 
What toy did they wish they could get? They often would be satisfied enough just by going through this
 exercise.”

3. Get a Little Silly

Saying “no” is the easy part, it’s getting your kid to accept it that’s 
hard, confides Jen Hancock, founder of Humanistic Parenting and author of “The Bully Vaccine.” “When my son was younger and we were just getting into telling him ‘no’ more 
strenuously, I would make a game out of it. If he started to whine, I would start singing the word—whatever song came to mind, the word ‘no’ was added. It would get him laughing, and he would start singing ‘yes’ in 
response—it was actually quite fun.”

4. Don’t Jump to ‘No’ Automatically

“When my kids approach me for something, I ask them why they want or need the item,”  says Mary O’Donohue, mom of two and author of “When You Say ‘Thank You,’ Mean It.” “If their answer gives me insight into why I  should agree, then I say ‘yes’. If I say ‘no,’ they know that they have been heard and not just dismissed.”

5. Use It Sparingly

Parent Educator Sarah Lendt, M.S.Ed., NCC says she reserves the word “no” for truly dangerous situations, when she supplies an age-appropriate explanation of her reasoning. Otherwise, she finds alternative words to maintain limits. Some examples of her “no” alternatives include:

  • “Not today”
  • “Maybe another time”
  • “I don’t like those treats for you”

6. Keep It Short

For younger children, psychotherapist Barbara Neitlich recommends using short explanations such as “It is not OK to take the toy away from your friend,” and moving the child on to find another toy or activity. “Parents tend to feel that they have to explain and re-explain to a child why they said ‘no,’” she says. “You do not have to do this. Shorter is actually better because a young child does not have the intellectual capacity to follow your reasoning. Long explanations often make them feel more confused and frustrated.”

7. Set a Budget

Once children hit their preteen/teenage years, setting a budget for clothing can help them make reasonable choices and eliminate the need for you to refuse them in the first place, explains Sarah Clachar, founder of Fit Family Together and a mom of two.

Tell us—what are your methods for telling your child no, and sticking to it?

  • http://mischievouskitty.blogspot.com/ Stephanie

    Ooh, I definitely like #4 – In addition to allowing the child to feel heard, it develops their critical thinking skills.  If they expect to change mom or dad’s mind, they need to come up with a better reason than “Because I want it.”  And if they can’t come up with a better reason, maybe they’ll realize that they don’t really need it.

    Also a big fan of #7, this is what my parents did with me once I got old enough to choose my own clothes.  They provided the necessities like socks and underwear, but each season it was up to me to spend money wisely on the rest of my wardrobe.  If I wanted to buy more, I could save my allowance and/or pick up extra chores around the house to earn more money.  It definitely taught me to plan ahead and keep impulse buys in check!

  • QXSerenity

    “… a young child does not have the intellectual capacity to follow your reasoning …”This really depends on each child. I don’t like underestimating anyone, especially my daughter. I don’t do baby talk with her, and I have the tendency to overestimate her (which is not always good, but it’s well better than underestimating her). I was always pretty mature for my age when I was a child, and I think because of the way I treat my daughter, she is the way she is. I often get people come up to me surprised at how “mature” she acts (she just turned 4 last week).

  • Tracey

    We taught the kids at an early age to shop off season for clothes which was a fun challenge for them to actually see how much money they saved. I have 4 kids as a single parent teaching the value of a dollar was a challenge but finding things on sale was fun when we went shopping and it was our fun little secret when know how much we saved on name brands.