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Alternatives to Saying “No” to Kids

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

“No” is a small but powerful word. Here we learn about some viable alternatives as well as some ways to use “no” effectively.

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 is a list of alternatives that can help you break the “no” habit.

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. Dinner is over.”
  4. “We don’t hit. Show me gentle hands.”

Elementary Age

  1. “That’s unsafe. Get down.”
  2. “Your voice is too loud.”
  3. “Stop. Think it through.”
  4. “You need to walk in the house.”

Pre-Teen and Teen

  1. “When your room is clean, we can talk about it.”
  2. “You may not go because your homework is not 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 How 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.

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.” If they continue to push, you can add, “If you feel you need an answer right now, it will have to be ‘no’.”


. Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional counseling. Read our full disclaimer here.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialization in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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