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5 ways to say “NO” without actually saying it.

Parenting with Joanne


If you have been a parent long enough, you would have come across circumstances in which you question your child; “Didn’t I just say no? Why did you do it then?”

A parent through any phase of a child’s development would attest to the tendency that our children have, to almost purposefully ‘do things’ that we have clearly told them ‘not to do’.  Many times we perceive this instruction to be fairly straightforward; a simple ‘no’ and then we wonder why it wasn’t followed through the way we thought it would be.

In my opinion, it is the word “no” itself that is part of the problem.  The word and the resulting connotations it comes with have the effect of either arousing a curiosity which leads to a child doing what he has been asked not to do or a sense of resistance tempered with a strong will to disobey. We may call it the psychology of man or the carnal nature within us.  Whatever it may be, I do understand that as parents, we need to find ways to discourage certain behavior. But the task remains to do this in a manner that effective. Let us take a look at some healthy and positive ways of expressing the meaning of “NO” to our young and vibrant children.

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  1. “Let’s try something else”

This one works well in situations where your main intention is to distract your child from some behavior or activity that is disruptive. Picture this. Your child suddenly finds the act of throwing balls of clay at the television, very interesting. Your natural inclination is to scream a big and firm “No”. However, I say, pause for a while, take a few breaths and show your child that he can throw a ball about in the garden instead and have as much fun. By doing this, you are not only dimming the light on the activity that wasn’t appropriate, you are also giving your child an option.

  1. “Perhaps another time”

When meal time draws near and your child insists on watching his favorite music video, what can you do? Show him that this isn’t the time to watch videos and that his request to watch it will be honored at a later time. The challenge at this point, for a parent would be, to keep to his word and allow the child to watch the video as promised, while reiterating at that point that the time is in fact right to watch his favorite video. This way, when you use the term “another time” again, your child will understand that it isn’t a dead end to his request.

  1. “It can hurt you”

Watching your child exploring his surroundings can be a very anxiety prone moment for parents, especially if you are new on the field of parenting. Many times, our anxiety gives way in anguished “No’s”. And yet we find them gravitating towards that one thing that is forbidden. If your child is able to express pain in words or gestures, you can use this language to convey the message that there is danger and that some actions or things can cause harm to them. This way, they understand much more and are more likely to avoid that action or object.

  1. “You need to ……….”

Expressing to you child that having a good bed time routine is beneficial to his health, is a better option than saying ‘no, you cannot stay up late’. On the other hand, you could use this approach to convey messages like, ‘you need to take care of your younger brother’, ‘you need to have good meals in order to grow’, ‘ you need to put your toys away in order to tidy up’. Help your child understand that his action or behavior is meant for a good result.

  1. “Let’s make good choices”

This guideline falls very much in line with what we discussed as our first option. Showing your child that there are always choices available regarding how he responds to a situation can be a liberating experience for him more than it can be for you. For example, when your child is upset or angry and resorts to hitting, pinching, biting or screaming, you can bring to light the fact that there are better ways of dealing with anger. Show him, that a good choice would be to take a time out for himself. This way, you are telling your child that it isn’t the negative feeling itself that is the problem, but the way it is expressed.

NO can be a place of frustration, confusion and resentment for our young children. Therefore, the next time, you are tempted to use the word, stop and think, “Is there another, more positive way for me to express this to my child?” and when you find that way, use it!! It’s always a better option.


Joanne Sathyadass has a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Journalism, Psychology and English Literature from the University of Bangalore now serving as a Special Needs Educator

For any queries please email Joanne on joanne.parenting@gmail.com