Parenting Matters: Learning about ‘no’

Parents definitely need to understand the importance of the word “no” as they raise children. For such a short word it can convey so much. It changes in what you mean and how you say it.

“No” is one of the first words children learn. It may come in twos, as in “no-no,” but it is for sure heard a great deal as your child begins to learn what is and isn’t OK.

The beginning use of the word is fine but slowly, problems develop. In order to keep the use at an appropriate level, parents and all of the rest of us need to learn how to use the word.

One of the reasons for learning how to use this word is that it is so important. This is the word that signals to your child that he is in danger. If he hears it too frequently, he may not pay attention when no is really important for his safety.

Pay attention to not use the word too much. Think of other ways to say it when you don’t want him to do something. You don’t want it to lose its impact. You may need to learn other ways to say no without saying no. For example, you can say, “Not now” or “Now isn’t a good time” instead of saying “no.” You can say, “I will think about it” instead of “no.” You even can say, “yes” instead of “no.” I think you get the idea.

Time to refocus

When your child asks you to do something that you don’t want him to do, consider giving him another suggestion. If he wants to play with a certain toy that you don’t want him to use, instead of saying “no,” give him a suggestion for a different toy instead. If he asks to paint and you don’t want the mess today, suggest instead that he color or that he play with his Legos.

How you say “no” also makes a huge difference. Think about the times you have been really angry and you said “no” and compare it with times when you have been calm. It is clear that the impact of your “no” is different to the listener.

While it is important to be aware of how you say it, it also is important to mean what you say. If you say “no,” follow through. I watched a little girl of about 7 whose parents told her to not wander around at the restaurant and just sit in the booth. Twice they told her and twice she ignored them. “No” needs to mean something. Parents can’t afford to have their “no” ignored.

“No” is to be used in emergencies, to be used sparingly and to have you be sure to follow through on when you use it. Think about how you would feel if someone told you “no” 25 times a day. Most of us wouldn’t put up with it.

Help your child have a positive view of life by thinking of different ways to have him do what you expect. Keep life on the positive side by rationing “no’s.”



Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and director of Parenting Matters Foundation. Reach Martin at or at 681-2250.


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