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Telling my toddler "No"

Updated: Jun 19

You know when you tell your kid not to do something, and then they stare into your soul while doing it anyway?


Here's the thing - Kids are experimenters.

Just like they learned cause-and-effect (aka I do something and something happens) with toys and objects, they're also learning this same concept with people.

I do something and mom responds a certain way.

I do something and dad responds a certain way.

As tedious as it can be as the parent, this is normal. It's part of their development.

They're experimenting. They're learning patterns. Now ask yourself: What patterns do I want them to learn?

Keep reading for 5 tips to help your child respond to No.

(Yes, you can actually teach this stuff!)

1. Ask yourself: "Do I need to say no right now?"

Saying No can often feel like a reflex. Afterall, we're the grown-up. We make the rules. We're responsible for these tiny humans.

But ask yourself- Am I saying no because this is a boundary that needs to stay firm? Do I need to feel in control right now? Are they doing something that's inconvenient?

Only you know this answer.

This internal dialogue & reflection is the starting point of the chain reaction that will follow.

2. Re-associate "No" with softer moments

If your kid seems really sensitive or anxious when hearing the word "No," they may have experienced big reactions surrounding this word previously, or might be trying to avoid doing anything wrong, or perhaps they're highly self-critical and avoid making mistakes.

Good news? We can re-teach and re-associate the word "No" outside of heightened contexts!

How? Make it silly! Be animated.

"Do shoes go on my head?" "Nooo, that's silly!"

"Do you like fish on your ice cream?" "Nooo, that's yucky!"

Same with the word "Stop." Use this word during games! "Red light means Stop! Green light means Goooo!"

3. Give them a Yes instead

When we only say not to do something, we (unintentionally) just added more focus on the thing we don't want them to do, & they're probably going to do that thing. Oh joy.

So what can we do instead? Give them a Yes!

Ask yourself: What CAN they do instead in this situation? Now tell them THAT!

Instead of "Don't pull the dog's tail," say "You can pet their head or their back."

Instead of "not now," tell them WHEN!

Turn "Stop asking for TV" into "You can watch TV after we put laundry away."

It's really hard to make this a new habit. So if you find yourself saying no, stop, don't, can't - just add the second sentence! Tell them what they CAN do!

4. Save your mom-voice for when it really counts.

Am I saying to remove "no, stop, don't, can't" from your vocabulary? Not at all!

But how we say these words also matter.

If we use a louder volume & stern tone for all the little moments (aka when it's not an emergency), then our kids may have a hard time realizing when they really need to listen or when they can just tune mom or dad out (cue Charlie Brown teacher voice).

Save your big responses for when it really counts.

Walking towards the street. Eating rocks. Running towards open water. Reaching for scissors. You know, those almost heart attack moments.

5. Encourage them to say "no," too!

Why should grown-ups be the only ones allowed to say no?

Allow your kid to decline things. Encourage them to self-advocate. Honor their wish to get out of something that's not a firm boundary. Let them reverse the roles and be the one in charge.

If they haven't learned how to say no yet, read their body cues & model it for them!

Remember, they're developing. They're experimenters. They're learning patterns.

What patterns do you want them to learn?

All tips are based in the science of applied behavior analysis - yes, there's a whole science behind this stuff!

Follow along on Instagram or Facebook for more ways to get quick wins as parents!

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