Saying ‘no’ to our kids isn’t always easy. We love them and we want them to be happy. Imposing boundaries and stopping kids from doing what they want is nobody’s favorite part of parenting.
However, avoiding the word ‘no’ altogether, can cause problems for children further down the line. Here’s why saying ‘no’ to your child isn’t something to feel guilty about. Plus a few great ideas for changing up the communication.
Why it’s OK to say ‘No’
Kids need to experience disappointment
Part of being a good parent is helping your child to develop long-term life skills. If your kid is used to always getting what they want, they don’t experience disappointment.
This can establish unrealistic expectations for the future and make it harder for them to deal with the inevitable stumbling blocks they experience as they grow older.
Overcoming disappointments and delaying gratification makes kids more resilient and hard-working. As a result, saying ‘no’ can actually help nurture their life skills and self-esteem for the long-term.
It helps kids feel secure
Uncertainty makes both kids and adults feel insecure.
Children will usually push at boundaries. But sometimes they’re actually looking for a parent to reinforce those boundaries. They want the reassurance of knowing where they stand.
Knowing what is and isn’t expected of them can be comforting. Kids know that they are cared for and safe. And that their parents can be relied upon to always look out for them.
It helps them to develop social skills
Avoiding the urge to say ‘no’ isn’t doing your child any favors when it comes to their social skills.
If your child is allowed to behave in whichever way they see fit, chances are they’ll go about their day in a pretty self-centered fashion.
Being able to share and (as they get older) negotiate and compromise, will help your child to make friends throughout life.
Saying ‘no’ when they disregard the feelings of others is an important step in their social development.
You’re responsible for their health and wellbeing
Eating sugary snacks. Binge-watching TV. Going to bed as late as possible.
Some of the things kids love to do, just aren’t that great for their physical and mental wellbeing. Parents have the task of reining in their kids’ excesses. And accepting the whining that tends to come with imposing restrictions.
6 alternatives to saying ‘No’
Whilst enforcing boundaries is an essential part of parenting, there are lots of different ways to say ‘no’.
Some parents feel that ‘no’ is too negative. Plus, the more it’s said, the more the word becomes a kind of background noise to your kids. And the easier they are able to ignore it!
If you’re conscious that ‘no’ is a regularly used word at home, here are a few alternatives you can try the next time you need to impose limits on your child.
If the timing of the request is the problem, rather than the request itself, assure a child that they will get what they want. They’ll just have to be patient and wait a little while.
Situation: Your child wants to play trains but the living room floor is already covered in toys.
‘No’ response: “No, there isn’t any space to play trains.”
Alternative response: “Sure, right after we tidy these toys away.”
Offer an alternative
When we offer a child an alternative, we’re suggesting an activity or behavior that is acceptable to us (and modeling problem-solving behavior to boot!).
A child isn’t just faced with the roadblock of ‘no’. They’re given an idea of something else to do. They might take you up on this suggestion. Or take your lead and come up with their own alternative activity.
Situation: Your child is throwing a ball around the living room.
‘No’ response: “No, we don’t throw balls in the house.”
Alternative response: “How about you go and throw that ball out in the yard?”
Offer a choice
Kids can react against a parent who regularly says ‘no’ and refuses to give them any (age-appropriate) control over their own lives. Giving your child a choice in the matter can help them to accept boundaries.
Situation: Your child asks to wear a party dress to go playing in the muddy park.
‘No’ response: “No, please put on these jeans and this t-shirt.”
Alternative response: (After picking out two outfits you’re happy with) “Your dress will get muddy at the park. Which of these outfits would you like to wear instead?”
Kids, just like adults, like to know the reasons why they aren’t able to do something. Instead of a straight ‘no’, give an explanation of your logic.
Situation: Your child wants to eat a candy bar right before dinner.
‘No’ response: “No, I don’t want you eating a candy bar.”
Alternative response: “It’s nearly dinner time. If you eat a candy bar now, you won’t be hungry for dinner. And eating all of your dinner makes you much bigger and stronger than eating a candy bar.”
Sometimes it’s enough to just acknowledge what your kid is feeling or what they’re trying to do. Showing your child you know where they’re coming from can defuse a situation and open the door to communication and problem-solving.
Situation: Your child hits a sibling in response to them snatching a toy.
‘No’ response: “No, we don’t hit!”
Alternative response: “I can see you’re angry that your brother took your toy. But we don’t hit. What words could you use to explain how you’re feeling instead?”
As they get older, giving advice but letting kids make their own mistakes can be a good approach.
You may have to give them a little help in managing the consequences of their behavior. But this is another way to give kids the self-esteem that comes from overcoming obstacles rather than being protected from them.
Situation: Your child wants to spend all of their monthly allowance on a costly computer game.
‘No’ response: “No, it’s too expensive.”
Alternative response: “If it were up to me, I’d be tempted to buy a cheaper game and save some money to go out with friends next weekend. I’m sure you can figure it out, though.”
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