Are you ready for another long post? This is going to be all about the word “no”. The inspiration for this post comes from my friend after I asked her what she finds most difficult as a parent. Without delay, her reply was that she wishes she could say no to her son and have him accept it without any “drama”.

I think that this is such an interesting topic and it is important that children are told and understand what “no” means. Of course there are differences between a teacher or care giver saying no to a child versus a parent, but understanding the reasons why we need to say no to children and using some of the techniques I’ll lay out, I hope I can help you in the same way that I helped my friend.

Should we say “no” to children?

To start with, I truly believe that there is nothing wrong with saying no to children. In fact, I believe that it is something that we must do, and I have seen the repercussions of not saying no to children on a few occasions. Have you ever met an adult and immediately thought: “I bet their parents never said no to them”? Me too…I may have even met more than one. 

I won’t use this time to debunk theories on why it isn’t a good idea to say “no”. (Some believe this limits children’s autonomy and doesn’t encourage creative thinking and initiative.) I would rather show you some techniques that I have had success with.

Children, by nature, are inquisitive and constantly learning about the world around them. Children need to challenge things in order to learn how to do things correctly and learn what is right and what is wrong.

That isn’t to say thatI have no feedback from a child after they’re told “no” and that they go on with their day happily – far from it! I have, however, learned from experience that children appreciate authority and boundaries. Don’t forget that learning boundaries is an important part of a child’s development.

Saying “no” at school and at home

When do I just say no? In the classroom, it is rare that I would need to merely say “no” to a child. It’s very important to me to have an open dialogue with my preschoolers; I talk to them about what is acceptable versus not acceptable and they understand, to the best of their ability, the reasons behind my saying “no”. However, there are occasions when a child needs to just hear this word in order to keep them safe. 

Accepting a “no” at home is always going to be more difficult for your child than at school for many reasons; children are more comfortable and feel they can challenge you, your rules are different than those at school, boundaries aren’t as clear, etc.

Tips and tricks no make “no” stick

These tips have proved very successful for me in the classroom and I’d like to share them with you; remember that some of these tricks will work better with different ages but why not give them all a try? 

  • Set clear boundaries and be consistent:

I know this sounds obvious but it’s so important: if your child knows they cannot do something because they have tried and tried and consistently been told no (hopefully with some justification) then they will start to make the connection between what they can and cannot do. It is so important to give your child explanations, which leads me on to my next tip:

  • Explain why:

If you’re saying “no” to your child, I assume you have a good reason for it. It could be that they want some sweeties before dinner, to watch another video on YouTube or to draw on the walls with a permanent marker.

If your child has copied this behaviour or come up with it themselves, they may not know that it isn’t okay. Your “no” will not suffice as your child doesn’t understand why they’re being not allowed to do such things. This can lead to children continuing undesirable behaviour in the future or to have a tantrum.

Preschool age children aren’t yet able to understand the permanence of things and don’t understand that you are saying “no, you can’t draw on the walls” and not “you can never draw again”. This can lead to tantrums and the continuing of this behaviour.

Instead, try saying “No. We draw on paper, why don’t you show me what you can draw on this piece of paper? If we draw on the walls instead of paper, I won’t be able to send your lovely picture to grandma”.

  • Give choices: 

This is maybe my least favourite; I don’t believe that every child understands and responds to this method. However, I’ve included it as I’ve had some success in the past.

If your child is nagging you that they want ice cream and won’t accept your answer of “no”, then try offering them an alternative (like yoghurt). This way they will not have the issue we addressed above (thinking you’re saying “you can never have ice cream again”) and can avoid tantrums.

  • Ignoring their response:

One for the brave parents out there who can cope with a tantrum or two (or maybe twelve).

If you say “no, you cannot watch another YouTube video” and your child has a meltdown (excessive crying, screaming, shouting), just walk away from them. Make sure they are safe, in a space where they can’t hurt themselves or anyone else and just let them cry it out.

Your preschooler doesn’t yet know how to deal with their emotions and crying is a natural response. Trying to explain your decision to them while they’re crying will not be effective. It is very hard for children to process information when they are highly emotional.

By walking away, you allow them to unleash their frustration and also show them that their response is not acceptable. Once your child has calmed down, talk to them and explain why they cannot watch that other YouTube video. Suggest other activities such as this one

  • Listen to your child:

If you find yourself constantly saying “no”, it may be that your child has entered a period of defiance (where a child learns how to oppose you) or that they are looking for attention. Try to understand why your child is consistently doing things that you’ve asked them not to. Work with your child and help them understand what behaviour is correct.

Use in real life

I once worked with a child who consistently did things that warranted myself and my teaching assistant to say “no”. When I say consistently, I really mean that we said it all day long. My teaching assistant and I sat and talked about why she was behaving this way and what we could do to help her.

Eventually we saw that the child was doing things to elicit a “no” when she were feeling left out or not getting enough attention. This child came from a large family and was having a hard time finding her place in it. Our solution was to speak with the parents and encourage some quality one-on-one time with their child. At school, while keeping clear boundaries, we saw great progress.

Learning to accept being told no is an especially important developmental stage for your child. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it! Keep going, parents, I believe in you!

What is your experience with saying “no” to your child? What methods worked for you? Please share, we can always do with some more tricks up our sleeves!  🙂

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