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July 24, 2024

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DAD BEAT: Saying, “No,” Without Saying, “No”

Saying, "No!" too much? Instead of being the constant party pooper, learn how to say, "No" without actually saying the word.

Remember when the word “no” had meaning? If you’re like us, that word — which used to work every time — has lost its power. When our 4-year-old hears us say it these days, he’ll just stare us unblinkingly in the eyes, continuing to do whatever we told him not to do with a little smirk on his face. Sound familiar?

We all want to make our kids happy, and it’s a lot easier — at least in the moment — to cave into their every desire. Of course, parents aren’t doing their tiny humans any favors when they don’t give them the experience of being told “no.”

At the same time, if your child regularly ignores you when you tell them “no”, then chances are you’re saying it too frequently. Some parenting experts believe that saying “no” too much can breed resentment or desensitize a child to its meaning. So, how to walk that line?

Call it sneakiness, call it parenting “Jedi mind tricks,” but I’ve found some ways to “say no, without saying no” that have been super helpful additions to my parenting toolbelt. Here’s a few:

Stay positive.

Try to rephrase your “no’s” as a statement about what your child can do, rather than what they can’t. So, instead of, “No throwing the ball in the living room!” you can say, “See if you can roll the ball down the hall” or “Remember, we only throw balls outside.”

Offer options.

Our little monsters crave to feel independent and in control. So rather than refusing when they ask for some chocolate, offer them a choice — like, “Do you want grapes or apple slices?”

Use distractions.

If something shiny and fragile catches their eye in a store, quickly divert them with a question, like “What should we have for lunch?” or “I forgot, what’s your favorite animal these days?”

Pick your battles.

Ask yourself, is what your child doing really that bad? Don’t feel bad about turning a blind eye to minor mischief now and then. Save your “no’s” for when you really need them and they’ll have more effect.

So next time the hairs on your neck go up from something your kid is about to test you on, try some of these strategies to avoid that meltdown in the middle of Target. When all else fails, explain why your toddler shouldn’t do something rather than dropping the ‘ol “no means no” bomb. There’s better ways to say no that will keep your kid happy and also give you some long-term relief. 



About the Author

Michael Aldrich

Michael Aldrich is Nashville Parent's Managing Editor and a Middle Tennessee arts writer. He and his wife, Alison, are the proud parents of 4-year-old Ezra and baby Norah.