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How to Say ‘No’ Without Saying ‘No’


Take a minute and follow my directions… “Don’t look at your computer. Don’t touch your face. No moving your body.” Ok now follow these directions… “Look at me. Keep your hands in your lap. Hold your body still.” Which set of directions feel more clear for you?


Many people hear that we don’t tell children “no” and that means we allow them to get away with anything. This is not the case at all. Of course, it is important for children to learn what not to do, but the approach is important on HOW to teach this. When we tell children not to do something, it is not clear to them what they should do. It forces their brain to try to think many more steps than it would if they were just clearly told what TO DO. If it’s difficult for us as adults, think about how difficult it is for a child who is still learning social norms.


It seems complicated, but as with many things with children I encourage you to keep it simple. When your child is doing something different than expected, instead of jumping right to “stop! Don’t do xyz!” just take a minute and think rephrasing to what you want them to do instead.


Here are some simple examples I’ve come up with, but the options are endless! As always, please feel free to reach out about any specifics or follow ups :)

  • “Don’t hit your brother!” → “Keep your hands on your own body”

  • “Don’t run in the parking lot” → “Wait for an adult before going in the parking lot”

  • “Stop yelling” or “Shh stop interrupting me” → “We are inside and need to use a quiet voice” or “please put your quiet hand on me and I will hear what you have to say when I finish my conversation”

  • “My shirt is blue!” → “It looks similar to blue! This color is called purple.”

  • “You can’t throw your toys!” → “Toys stay on the ground. If you want to throw, you can throw the ball outside into the net.”


With love,

Rachael Walston



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