One day I sat in an adjoining room to where my husband and daughter were. I didn’t know particularly what they were up to, but at one point, a full few minutes of the ‘conversation’ was her Daddy saying ‘No, no, don’t touch that. No Ameli, put that down. No, no, I said no’ and so on.

I became conscious of how often we were saying no to Ameli and discussed it with my husband. At first he didn’t really think it such a big deal, but he must have become conscious of it, as he started pointing it out to me when I was doing it too.

We began to realise how difficult it really is to exclude ‘no’ from your vocabulary once Ameli started walking, unpacking things from cupboards, and generally expressing her independence.

It wasn’t until Ameli one day did something she was allowed to, then looked at me and shook her head that I realised that it did have an effect on her.

Say no all the time

So we started making a few changes to the way we ‘do’ things.

  • For a start, we moved things that shouldn’t be in her reach – glasses, plates, important papers. If they’re not in reach, there’s no need to tell her not to touch them.
  • We tried to distract her, or deflect her attention from things she wants but shouldn’t have. She wants to play with a glass, I remove the glass, but instead of saying ”No, don’t play with the glass”, I will take the glass and give her a toy and say, “Let me take that, and you can have this.”
  • We change the words that we use to attempt to be more positively reinforcing, and making her think about her actions, rather than constant negatives – “Do you think you should be playing with that?””What do you think Daddy would say if he saw you unpacking his drawer?” “Are you sure that’s where those go?”
  • If she’s done something already before we could stop her, such as unpacking the dirty laundry basket, I stand by her and we repack it together, saying something like “Okay, now we need to put everything away again… come on, in the basket… that’s right… thank you for being helpful”
  • If she asks for something – and by asks I mean she comes, takes my hand, takes me to what she wants, holds out her hand and says ‘Ta’ with a rising inflection on the ‘a’ (very cute!!) – and it’s not something she can have or do, I will state what she wants, acknowledging that I’ve heard her. For example, “I know you’d like to climb the stairs, but Mama is working now. Why don’t you play with your book and we’ll climb the stairs later?” At her age (13 months), she doesn’t understand a word of it, really, but I will then pick her up, grab her book, make a comfy spot somewhere for her to sit and hand her her book, open a page and point to something on it to help her engage with it. So far, that seems to work.

I have found that since we have embarked on phasing out ‘no’, it’s impact has become greater too. Recently, Ameli ran along a patio, full speed towards the edge yet not looking at it. I yelled ‘NO!’ and she stopped dead, looking at me. I was able to walk over to her, take her hand and show her where she was headed. I honestly believe she got it, as she put her arms around my neck, and let me lift her down.

If we see our children as people, we can understand the frustration of constantly hearing ‘no’, generally because parents are too busy, preoccupied, or tired. If I heard ‘no’ all the time, I’d be frustrated too. If all children want is to be heard, then confirming we’ve heard them before giving them our decision should make that decision easier to accept – not because they like the decision, but because they can see it’s been considered and understood, rather than just a knee-jerk response. And anyway- if you say ‘no’ all the time, they just tune you out in the end!

So, yes, I’m holding my hand up. I might be getting this totally wrong. Perhaps I’ll turn out with a child who knows no boundaries, defies every limit and is thoroughly disobedient. It is possible. But my hope is that in positive instruction, providing alternatives and causing her to think from this young age, not only will it give me time to ‘practice’ and break free from the in-built ‘no’, but it will allow her to grow up as an analytical person aware of her decisions and choices, conscious of her actions, free to explore and ready to take on the world without fear.

How about you? Have you found alternatives to ‘no’ or do you think that’s a step too far?

Further reading:

Alternatives to NO – Kelly Naturally shares fabulously good advice on alternatives to the constant No No No on the Natural Parenting Network
Parents Connect: Saying no to your kids  tips on using alternatives to ‘no’
Long Term Benefits of Positive Reinforcement vs Negative Reinforcement


Mama Said No. All The Time.

  1. I came to the same realization as you about 16yrs ago, when I had my first child, he is now a very responsible young teenage boy, whom still does not hear ‘no’ often, but when I do say it, he listens. If he asks for something (stay out later than his curfew) I tell him, I’ll think about it and then we will usually come to a compromise. I also have a 13yr old son and I love the way I can communicate with both my boys, we have a fun, upbeat, respectful relationship. I respect them and in turn get shown respect, constantly being told how great my boys are, I say thank you, but it’s all them, they choose to behave the way they do, I only guided them.
    I now have a 7.5mth old girl and will be keeping most of parenting the same but I also can see where I will be making done improvements, I was not a perfect parent, lol.
    Anyway just wanted to let you know that, taking out the word ‘no’ is a huge thing in my parenting and I think it removes so much conflict.

  2. I generally like this approach a lot. I do find it over-done not to use the word “no” at all, but awareness of not over-using it and finding replacement statements is beneficial. Children can understand reasonings earlier than some parents seem to think, so if “no” is being used it should be accompanied by an explanation and if possible an alternative.

  3. Your strategy works great with the first child. I’ve long been conscious of saying ‘no’ too often, so with my daughter I did a lot of gentle redirection, used the phrase ‘not for XXX, here, this is for XXX,’ and said yes as often as I could. It still worked with child #2. By child #3 and 4, however, my older children were also ‘parenting’ and, well, ‘no’ became much more common. They are all great kids, however, and I have hope that they will be wonderful adults.

  4. This is something I’ve definitely thought about a lot. I had the opportunity to see two children whose parents did say “no” to them all the time begin quite early to tune it out, until only continued screaming would get them to pay attention — from their parents, though. If my parents said something to them in a reasonable tone, they’d stop and hear what was being said, because they knew my parents weren’t constantly telling them to stop whatever it was they were doing, even if it was harmless.

    I’ve tried to relax my own standards about how things must be done, or what things can and can’t be handled. It’s meant a little more mess but also a lot more peace. It’s not always easy, though!

  5. I generally like this approach a lot. I do find it over-done not to use the word “no” at all, but awareness of not over-using it and finding replacement statements is beneficial. Children can understand reasonings earlier than some parents seem to think, so if “no” is being used it should be accompanied by an explanation and if possible an alternative. Example: “No, don’t walk through there. The floor is wet. Walk the other side instead.”

  6. “No” isn’t a part of my discipline vocabulary either, and hasn’t been since Jenna learned to walk nearly six years ago. The biggest replacement for the constant stream of “don’t” and “can’t” directed at children is to tell them what they CAN do. Hold the glass steady. Gentle hands on the cat. Put it down gently. “One finger touch”. Wait.

    In emergencies, I use “stop” or “freeze!” No is too non-specific. Are you saying no to the running, to the running THAT way, to the coat over the head, to the bare feet? “Stop” gives you time to say what you see and give a direction. My experience of “no” for danger is that my kids keep going until they know what the no was for!

    I love the irony that I am accused of being permissive for not using any form of punishment or negative reinforcement, neglectful for not using praise or any positive reinforcement, and plain wierd for avoiding meaningless negative statements like “no” or even “careful”. 😉 And yet usually the person criticising has complimented my children’s behaviour several times before they have reason to find out that I am non-coercive. 😉

    1. @Sarah, Oh! I get that soooo often. Especially in my family – criticize me for my parenting, but compliment me on my child. Do you really think the two are separable??

      Annnnyyyway… I agree with you about ‘No’. It is non-specific. I like what you say about changing it to be positives. That makes a lot of sense to me. Teach a child what they CAN do, rather than reminding them what they CAN’T.

  7. Oh, I remember this with Rosemary, and am realising now that we’re repeating ourselves with Eleanor. Rosemary used to constantly take out the Sky viewing card. Constantly. And we would constantly say ‘No!’ Until we taped it up and she couldn’t any more.

    The trouble is… with two it’s a bit more difficult to eliminate all no-inducing things. Eleanor’s favourite is bins. Almost every bin in the house has now been raised out of her reach. But the kitchen bin has nowhere else it can go. So we try to keep the kitchen door closed (there are also cupboards in there, and we know how no-inducing they can be!), but with a schoolchild running around and going and grabbing yoghurts and drinks from the fridge, we still frequently have to call ‘No! Leave the bin alone!’ Then again, she has recently started mostly putting actual rubbish in the bin and being very pleased and proud when she gets it out. She’s been taking the dishwasher tablets (they’re wrapped up, don’t worry!) and tries to put them in the dishwasher, and she takes the tins of anchovies for rides in her buggy, which does no-one any harm, really. So, I wonder if a bit of ‘No!’ hasn’t done much harm and having the bin in reach has helped her learn its real use. Who knows.

    1. @Tasha Goddard, That’s true Tasha! I had not considered it with two – especially if there is any kind of significant age gap between the two. What a nightmare.

      I agree too that there’s learning to be had. As Dory says in Finding Nemo – (wow. once upon a time I used to quote, I dunno, Die Hard, now I’m quoting Finding NEMO??!!!) If you don’t let them experience anything, they’ll never experience ANYTHING. Or something like that. I’m the same with Kyra – we allow her to explore and experience and even do things she shouldn’t really, but no is still reserved for the important things.

      Thanks for commenting!

  8. I remember reading something somewhere… about saying no to children. Along the lines of … “if you are only saying no because you can’t be bothered or you have things set up so that you’re constantly reprimanding, then you need to change your ways….”

    And so since I read it I’ve been very conscious of saying no, and eliminated scenarios in which it needed to be said eg) move the ornaments/anything dangerous and being organised so that if I wasn’t able to do something I had alternatives lined up ready. Obviously no is still said in dangerous situations where they may come to harm but on the whole, I don’t use No, and my children are far from out of control 🙂

    1. @Whimsical Wife, yes, that’s pretty much what we’ve done – moved things, changed our habits etc. I agree that No is still used in some situations – we’ve certainly not illiminated it – but have tried to make it have meaning. Thanks for the comment!

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