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How to Avoid Saying No All the Time

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Do you feel like you say “no” all day long to your kids? It doesn’t matter if our children are toddlers or teens, we can develop the tendency to use “no” as a knee-jerk reaction. As a result, the word becomes watered down and ineffective (or, in the case of toddlers, used against us!). Here are some alternatives to saying no.

Different ways to say “no” to babies, toddlers and preschoolers

  1. “Please stop” (use a raised palm as a sign for pre-talker). This should always be accompanied by an action.
  2. “You can’t touch that, but you can play with this.”
  3. “We don’t throw food.”
  4. “We don’t hit. Show me gentle hands.”

Different ways to say “no” to elementary age kids

  1. “That’s unsafe. Get down.”
  2. “Your voice is too loud. Let me hear your indoor voice.”
  3. “Hold on. Think it through.”
  4. “You need to walk in the house.”

Different ways to say “no” to pre-teens and teens

  1. “When your room is clean, we can talk about it.”
  2. “You can go when your homework is done.”
  3. “What do you think will happen if you do that?”
  4. “We can talk about this further when you can use a respectful tone.”

This is not just a case of semantics. “No” may be easier and to the point but it lacks a training component. As Christian parents, we have to diligently keep the mindset that our job is not simply to stop behavior, but to train and equip. Plus, the alternatives to just saying “no” place the emphasis on what you would rather see your child do and not just what you don’t want them to do.

Know when to use “no”

Sometimes “no” is necessary. Danger and safety issues do not lend themselves to alternatives to saying “no” to our kids. If our child is about to touch the hot stove, a sharp “No!” can prevent serious harm (at least, if our “no’s” have not been over-used to the point of ineffectiveness). But sometimes we just say “no” out of knee-jerk reaction. We may have become weary from the constant bombardment of questions, needs and wants. “No” seems like the easy way out. But when we do this, we are inadvertently encouraging any little lawyers in our home. If we respond without hearing all the facts first, we may have to go back on our words and change our “no” to a “yes” once we do. This only provides motivation for future arguing and debating.

How to avoid “no’s” you will regret

Pausing is one of the greatest parenting tools at your fingertips. When your child asks for something, take a moment. Ask for more information. Get your facts straight. Then, if the answer needs to be “no,” so be it. At least you will be confident enough in your answer to stick to it. And if you can’t come to a conclusion at that moment, simply say, “I need some time to think about this, but I will get back to you when I decide.”

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed therapist who offers parent counseling services to families in Connecticut. She loves to equip and encourage parents of kids of all ages. CfP is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring teens.

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