The problem with the word “No” is this: when it’s used too often, toddlers tend to tune it out after awhile.”No” alone doesn’t help your toddler learn what to do instead. Also, saying “No!” in a louder and louder voice (as you may be tempted to do when your toddler all but ignores you the first five times you say it), is not going to help him hear and heed your message any better. It may just lead to frustration for both of you. I advise saving “No” for emergencies, like when your child is in immediate danger. You can be sure your child will stop and notice when you use the word only in rare instances.
In “We Don’t Want To Spank,” Janet Lansbury emphasizes the importance of creating a safe play area within your home – a place just for your child, that has few restrictions, and is all about YES! The fact remains, when you are parenting a toddler, there are times when you will have to say “No.” So, what can you say instead, to get your point across and make it possible for your toddler to co-operate more readily with you?
Here are six ideas:
1) Rephrase your request in a positive way: Instead of saying, “No, don’t run,” try, “Please walk inside.” Instead of ”No, don’t touch!” try, “You want to touch the lamp, but it might fall and break. Please just look with your eyes.” Instead of, “No, don’t touch the cat,” try, “Please remember to touch the cat gently.” (You may have to stay close to demonstrate gentle touches.)
2) Let your child know what he may do instead of telling him what he can’t do: Instead of, ”No, you can’t have a cookie now,” try saying, “You may have a cookie after dinner. If you are hungry now, you may have fruit or a piece of cheese.” Instead of, ”No climbing on the furniture,” try, “The chair is for sitting in. If you’d like to climb, you may climb here (showing him). “Instead of , “No, we can’t go to the playground because it’s raining,” try saying, ” I know how much you love to play outside. We can go out as soon as the rain stops. Would you like to read a story or build with your blocks while we wait for the rain to stop?” Instead of , “No! No throwing balls indoors,” try saying, “You can roll the ball indoors or take it outside and throw it. What’s your choice?”
3) Ask for your child’s help and thank him when he gets it right: Instead of, “No! I told you not to take your shoes off because we’re getting ready to go,” try saying, “You need your shoes on to go outside. Please help me find them so we can get ready to go.” Instead of, ”No more playing for you. I’m not going to ask you to pick up your toys again,” try, “Thank you for helping me to clean up all the toys!” Instead of, ”I said no yelling!” try lowering your own voice and saying, “Thank you for remembering to speak softly while your baby sister is sleeping.”
4) Explain the reason for your request, and state what behavior you want to see instead: Instead of saying, “No, don’t________ ,” try stating, ”I want you to_____________ because__________.“ “No, don’t throw the sand,” becomes, “I want you to keep the sand low in the sandbox, so it doesn’t get in anyone’s eyes, because that might hurt.” “No, don’t bang on the table,” becomes, “I want you to stop banging on the table because the sound it makes is loud, and it’s hurting my ears.”
5) Use “sportscasting” to say what you see: Instead of saying, “No throwing food!” try saying, “You’re throwing your food. That tells me you’re done eating, so I am going to put the food away now.” Instead of “No splashing in the cat’s water bowl,” try saying, “You are playing in the cat’s water bowl, and splashing water all over the floor. That water is for the cat to drink. If you want to play in water, let’s fill the tub with water.”
6) If your child is hitting, kicking, or biting: Instead of saying, “No hitting/kicking/biting!” try saying, “Hitting/kicking/biting hurts! I won’t let you hit/kick/bite me. If you want to hit/kick/bite, you may hit the floor (or these pillows)/kick this ball/bite this teething ring.”
When you take the time to talk with your child in the respectful, positive ways above, explaining the reasons for your requests, offering choices, modeling the behavior that you want to teach, and bringing your child’s awareness to the impact his actions have on other people, you are including him in the learning process, and guiding him to become self aware and self regulating in his behavior. This is the true goal of discipline; to help your child to become disciplined from within and learn to make good choices, instead of dependent on someone else to tell him what is right or wrong.
Tell me, have you found other ways to gain your toddler’s co-operation without resorting to saying no over and over? I’d love it if you’d share.