Ten Alternatives to “No”

alternative_to_no_b“No” is one of the first words many kids learn. It gives them power to assert their blossoming independence. They also learn to understand what it means early in life as we gently discipline and guide them through our world. However “no” can be, and often is, overused. When overused, it becomes ineffective. Suddenly our children seem deaf to us! Learning a few alternatives to “no” can go a long way in creating a more peaceful relationship.

  1. Child-proof – it is a myth that, by childproofing your home, you will take away opportunities for your child to learn right from wrong. Child proofing is an easy way to eliminate potential harm and encourage your child to explore and act appropriate for his or her age. It is the single most effective way to cut down on the usage of the word “no”!
  2. Distraction – when your child is doing something inappropriate, distraction is often the easiest and quickest way to end the behavior. Changing rooms is often enough, in itself, to end the behavior and redirect energy toward something favorable.
  3. State things positively – instead of saying no, say yes! Children respond more favorably to hearing what they can do instead of what they can’t. Instead of saying “No, you can’t have a cookie right now”, try “Yes, you can have a cookie – after dinner.”
  4. Tell your child what to do, not what NOT to do. Children may not understand or consider that what they are doing is inappropriate. They may not know how to correct the situation even when you tell them no. By telling your child what you do expect, you are teaching them how to behave instead of just focusing on how not to behave. When Andrew hits his sister, tell him “Please use your words with your sister to tell her what you want.” Or “Please come ask for help when you are frustrated with your sister!”
  5. Bait & Switch – This is particularly useful for infants but also works with many toddlers and preschoolers. When your child is using something inappropriately, for example using a wooden flute as a baseball bat, swap out the inappropriate item for one that is safer or fits the situation such as, in this example, a stick or bat. For older kids, offering two acceptable alternatives is a fair and respectful way to handle many situations as it gives power back to the child.
  6. Humor – humor is one of the least-used but most effective disciplinary tools. If you can get your child laughing and keep yourself laughing, your battle is won! Being silly about the inappropriate behavior will help defuse the situation for everyone and will make the transition to appropriate behavior easier for an otherwise proud or defensive child.
  7. Consider the issue – is it really an issue worthy of discipline? For non-urgent matters, take a minute or two to consider the answer. Often parents have a knee-jerk reaction to situations that may not warrant the reaction. Consider whether you are saying no because it’s easier or because it’s truly necessary.
  8. Allow an argument – not in an angry or unhealthy way but in a negotiating way. Often children have sound logic behind their requests or actions and, if allowed to mount an argument in their defense, we might learn that we are more in support of the idea of action than originally believed.
  9. Ignore the behavior. If it is simply annoying and not overtly harmful – such as potty humor, incessant talking, etc – simply ignoring the behavior will help bring it to a halt quickly. Often children engage in these behaviors because they want attention – positive or negative – and ignoring them will remove the goal and help cease the behavior. Saying “no” will feed the behavior with negative attention.
  10. Finally, in urgent situations, state firmly and loudly, with seriousness in your voice, exactly what action needs to happen. When your child approaches a street, say “Stop” instead of saying “No”. It is clearer to your child what you mean for him or her to do.