Some Alternatives to Saying “No”

alternatives to saying no

There are some days in February that seem as if all we do as parents is say “no”.

“No, Susan can’t spend the night. Your brother has the flu.”

“No, you cannot go bike riding right now. It’s dark.”

“No, we can’t go to the mall. It’s supposed to start snowing soon.”

Bad weather, illnesses, and long nights seem to conspire to make the shortest month of the year the longest.

Add to this wintry mix, children who, when hearing the word “no”, see it as a call to arms, as a personal attack on their independence, and turn all their pent up energy and frustrations toward their parents. These children have tantrums, screams, call names, stomp off, slam doors, and pout. I hope none of these darlings have been at your house, but if needed, read on.

How can we stand firm when we must answer negatively to a request, while at the same time side-step confrontation, maintain harmony in the household, and allow our children to preserve their independence and dignity?

Did I include, “retain our sanity”?

Here are some helpful hints from the book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk. First published in 1980, this book was one of the first on my parenting shelves, and I wouldn’t doubt that I purchased it in February.

Give information.

When met with a situation, we can give information that will help the child figure out that right now is not a good time.

For, ‘Mom, can I invite Jimmy over to play?” instead of saying, “No, you can’t,” give decision making facts.

“Dinner will be ready in ten minutes.”

You don’t have to say no, and your child should have enough information to see that the answer is in fact “no”.

Accept feelings.

Sometimes we can lessen our children’s disappointment or frustration if they sense we understand their feelings.

“But Dad, I don’t want to go to bed right now.”

Instead of no, we might say, ‘I can understand if it were up to you, you would stay up all night so you wouldn’t miss a thing.”

Describe the problem.

“Mom, can Lucy spend the night?”

“I’d like to say yes, but your grandparents are coming this weekend.”

Give yourself time to think.

Your child says, “Dad, can I have a horse at my birthday party?”

You can respond, “Let me think about it, please.” Remember, too, to get back with an answer in a reasonable amount of time.

When possible, substitute a ‘yes’ for a ‘no’.

Your child asks, “Can we go to the mall?”

Instead of saying, “No, I’ve got to finish the laundry”, you could say, “Yes, just as soon as the laundry is folded and put away.”

These suggestions may seem like a lot of work and the hard way to say no. But considering some of the drama we may encounter, sometimes the high road is the short cut to where we want to go.

If none of these works for you, there is always ‘”Because I said so.”

Then we can move to other languages: Nein. Nichts. Non. Nej. Nyet.

connecting with children

4 Responses to “Some Alternatives to Saying “No””

  1. Clarissa

    Thank you Maren. I look forward to your bits of wisdom every week. This week’s article is right on. For years I have been telling my student’s parents to eliminate the “no’s” with their children. And now with my almost 3 year old I can honestly say that all of your substitutions actually work!

    • Clarissa,

      Thanks! It is amazing how these hints help make family life and life in the classroom run smoother.

      Glad to know it’s working for you!

  2. Glennis McNeal

    The advice to never say no when you can say yes was gold to me, especially during the teen years. It made me stop to think why I wanted to say no. Often no meant because I don’t want to. If you say yes often enough, then the no has real meaning and won’t elicit, “You ALWAYS say no.”

    • Glennis,

      Great to hear from you and to know that saying yes was a helpful technique with teens.

      And I can only assume that you are finding great success with the grandchildren, too!


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