I’m on a journey to start saying no less to my kiddos. I didn’t realize how often I was saying it until Nora started to repeat my “No, Charlie, no!” as he rushed anything that I didn’t want him to go toward. (Isn’t it fun when your children start mirroring you?) I read recently that the average one year old hears “no” more than 400 times a day, and I thought that that couldn’t be true. But then I thought about the fact that it’s not usually one no that screeches out of my mouth when Charlie gets into the toilet or Nora tries knocking Charlie over, it’s usually a tirade of no no no no no no! So that stat doesn’t really surprise me anymore.
Hearing only negative words, like no, stop, or don’t, can impact a child’s brain and frame of mind. While there is definitely a time and place for saying no or stop, I don’t want to overuse these words to the point that they become ineffective or hurt my children’s psyches. I want to help my kids grow up into positive and creative adults, something that could be limited by only hearing no all the time. As I’ve talked about before, I’ve started this journey by creating yes spaces that they can explore without me having to say stop constantly. I’ve also been analyzing my own reasons for saying no- is it because I’m being lazy and not wanting to be present or is it actually something they shouldn’t be doing? Most importantly, I’ve been working on the language that I’ve been using with them on a daily basis. This has required some changes on my part, but I’ve seen great results, especially in my 2.5 year old! Here are some of the tactics I’ve been employing to start saying no less.
Redirect, Redirect, Redirect
Redirection is the only tactic I’ve really found to work in the just becoming mobile stage of development that Charlie is in, and it also works with my toddler too. Instead of yelling “No, no, no” at Charlie as he gets into the recycling or grabs the cat, I can physically get up and remove him from the situation. I can also quickly think of something more exciting to entice him to turn around and come back my way, though this is just in the beginning stages of working. In the infant stage, they aren’t able to be reasoned with and are getting into things by way of exploration, not to make somebody angry (thought it doesn’t feel like it sometimes!). Therefore, physical redirection is the best way to refocus an infant without having to yell no.
This tactic also works with toddlers – at least sometimes. When I see that Nora is going to do something that will probably not end well or that I don’t want her to do, I default to yelling at her to stop it or say my “no, no, no!” This usually ends up egging her on (she often thinks it’s hilarious when I yell at her…). Or, it ends up with her in tears or a tantrum. I’ve found that by providing her with a different idea of something to do or physically picking her up and redirecting, I’m able to forego these behaviors. I use this tactic a lot when she is asking me to do something that I don’t want her to do (or that I don’t want to participate in for the 50th time). Instead, I can come up with a different fun idea that will hopefully take her attention instead.
How about we do ______ instead?
Let’s go play in your room for awhile next.
What’s a different game that we can play?
Change the Language From No to Yes
I’m really working on watching my language and changing it from negative to positive forms. This means that instead of saying “Don’t Run!,” I say “Please Walk!” When given orders, children often focus only on the last words in the sentence. When you preface a sentence with no, stop, or don’t, they don’t usually process the negative portion, but hear the words at the end and continue that action. By stating what you do want them to do rather than what you don’t want them to do, there is a much higher chance of it actually happening.
This requires extra brain power on my part, so it’s been taking a little time to get the hang of it. It’s way easier to say stop doing something than to think of what I want them to do instead! However, I have found that when I do remember to switch it around, I have a much easier time communicating with Nora what I need from her leading me to less saying no. Then, she’ll often follow through- though definitely not every time. She is two after all!
Instead of “Don’t pour out the bubbles”, I can say “Keep the bubbles in the bottle.”
Instead of “No screaming in the house,” I can say “Outdoor noises outside and indoor noises inside.”
Instead of “Stop dumping out all of the pieces,” I can say “Put the pieces back in the box.”
Give Options to Avoid the Power Struggle
Nora is at the age where she is wanting to be the ruler of her own life. She likes to make the decisions of what we’re doing and how she’s going to do it, and she does not like to hear the word no. This can contribute to a power struggle over silly things like what she’s wearing if I’m not careful. It also makes situations tough when we’re needing to get somewhere on time, and she really isn’t wanting to go. I will often default to yelling or negative language in these situations, and it always ends in tears and a struggle. I’ve found that by instead offering options between items or ideas in which both outcomes are okay with me, I give her some of the power that she needs to feel in control, while actually staying in control of the situation myself.
This also leads to me saying no less because I’m happy with either option that she has available. As long as I am giving fair choices to choose between, she’ll generally go along. She has been known to say, “I don’t like those options,” which can sometimes make things harder. Through a little intentional communication, we can usually figure out a suitable choice that will work for both of us. By breaking it down to her level, I’m able to say no less and usually avoid any tantrums or tears.
It’s too hot out to wear that, would you like to wear a dress or shorts?
Do you want to go potty now or after we read another book?
Would you like to hold my hand in the parking lot or do you need me to carry you?
State the Why
As Nora has gotten easier to reason with, sharing with her the reason behind why she can’t do something has worked really well. This often works best when I take the time to pull her to the side, give her snuggles, and validate what she is doing or feeling fits. I then can state the action that she was doing that was bad and why I don’t want her to do said action. Usually, I’ll then go on to redirect or ask her what other actions she could do instead. By taking the time to sit down with her and be intentional, I can avoid the negative circle and hopefully she won’t continue to do that action in the future.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how fast Nora has caught onto some of the “whys” we have shared with her, allowing us to say no less to her in a lot of situations. Our biggest one has been the things that we can’t do right now because a place is closed, it’s not a good thing to do when Charlie is awake, or we don’t have enough time. She’ll often catch on quickly and offer a time that could make sense to do it instead- and surprisingly remembers it when we get to that time! We need to give our two year olds more credit than we think!
I see that you like doing that, but that’s dangerous and I don’t want you to get hurt.
I love that you are having fun with Charlie, but I don’t like when you push him because it hurts him.
The library is closed until 10:00, and we can’t go inside until the librarian unlocks the doors.
I’m sure there are many other tactics to employ on the journey to saying no less to our toddlers and using positive language, but these are some of the ones that are working for us right now. I’d love to hear your ideas as this is all a work in progress for us! I’m pretty sure I said no to the kiddos that 400 times just throughout the process of writing this post. By being intentional in the language we use and the environment we create for our kiddos, I hope to raise confident, creative, and kind adults that go on to do good things. Here’s to each step of that journey!
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