Behavior Development: 5 Ways to Help Parents Kick the “No” Habit

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Parenting—It’s likely the single most commonly used word in any parent’s vocabulary and not surprisingly, one of the first words most kids learn how to say. Yes, the word “No” crosses most parents’ lips multiple times a day, from keeping crawling babies out of harm’s way to correcting energetic toddler’s rowdy behavior – it’s a powerful two-letter word that most of us use with reckless abandon. What most parents don’t realize is that saying “no” too often is actually doing our kids more harm than good.

When you are the parent of a small child, there are numerous opportunities to correct behavior during any given day. The problem is that most parents are saying "no" so much that their kids begin to tune them out – meaning that their ‘no’ no longer has an effect. This can be especially dangerous for parents of babies who are just becoming mobile, and curious toddlers that may inadvertently put themselves in harm’s way. When mom sees her little one about to touch a hot stove, and she can’t get to him in time, it's important that he hears her "no!" and it causes him to stop what he’s doing.

Parents often tell their children “no” when it comes to behavior issues and leave it at that. So kids are left knowing what they can’t do instead of what they can. Helping kids to understand why a behavior is harmful or unacceptable and offering them a replacement increases their changes of changing the way they act. This way, the next time it happens, they’ll know what to do.

Ways to Replace the Word "No"

If the idea of nixing "no" from your vocabulary is leaving you perplexed about what to say instead, worry no more. Here are five ways you can replace "no" with something a little more positive:

Choose your words carefully.

When you take a vow of “no” silence, you’ll need to decide on a word or phrase to use in its place. For babies, the phrase “not for baby” works well. Say the words to them in a chipper, upbeat tone as you pull them away from the object or activity. What important is to avoid using negative phrasing. Instead of saying “don’t do that!” or “no!” try phrasing it a little differently: For example, if your preschooler is banging on the table and you want her to stop, instead of saying “Stop banging on the table!” try “Please don’t bang on the table. It’s not okay. Would you like to draw with some pens instead?”

Engage and explain.

Most parents of young children know that nearly everything you say and do will be met with one question “WHY?” And there’s good reason – small children are constantly exploring and learning about the world around them and as their parent, you are their ultimate guide. When you tell your child that they shouldn’t do something – like running in the house – you have to engage them in a dialogue and explain to them why they shouldn’t do it. For example, you may say “If you run in the house you could get hurt, or something could break and hurt you. If you have lots of energy and want to run, let’s go outside.” Even babies can benefit from an explanation. Babies are able to understand language much earlier than they are able to express it back to you – so when you take an object from his hand say, “Can Mommy have the pen? Thank you. This pen is not for baby, it’s for Mommy. This pen could hurt you if you put it in your mouth.” This sets both you and your baby up for a lifelong relationship of good communication.

Offer an alternative.

Simply telling a child that he can not or should not do something does not complete the cycle of teaching them how to behave appropriately. You have to also teach them what they can and should do instead. And this applies for children of all ages. As you remove the remote control from your baby’s grasp and say “not for baby” you must replace it with something that she can have like a toy or book that interests her. For your toddler or preschooler, in addition to telling them that we don’t jump on beds because it’s dangerous and they could get hurt, you must offer an activity to replace their behavior. Offer to take them outside and jump along with them in the yard, or suggest that they play a game that is safe indoors like “I Spy” or putting together a special puzzle.

Be Consistent.

As with any parenting technique, the success of what you do is tied into how consistent you are. You have to commit to omit "no!". Once you make the decision to nix “no” from your vocabulary you have to stick with it. If you do it one day, and not the next, then it simply won’t work. If you don’t want your child to be used to hearing the word “no” from you, then you can’t use it. Parenthood is a commitment, and being a successful parent is wholly dependent on how well you keep that promise to yourself and your child.

Call in the calvary.

When it comes to supervision, it’s safe to say that in the course of your child’s life you won’t be their sole care taker for every minute of every day. Make sure that you take the time to explain this technique to all the people who take care of your little one. Be sure to include your spouse, babysitters, and daycare providers. And don’t forget to clue in Grandma and Grandpa. This can be awkward the first few times, and saying "no" is a knee-jerk response for adults that see children doing something they shouldn’t. Letting your child’s other caregivers see you in action is a great way to get them started. The more consistently you use a parenting technique, even if you aren’t present, the faster your child will learn.

Practice patience, patience, patience.

When babies first become mobile, its seems as though they are able to find an endless amount of danger to get into – from electrical outlets, sharp edges, and wobbly furniture – you feel as though you spend your entire day pulling them away and saying “not for baby!” Likewise, with a toddler or preschooler, limitless energy and curiosity abound – a recipe that can have you feeling like a CD stuck on repeat! But as most parents know, patience truly is a virtue. If you start to feel weary and you are ready to explode, then step away. Take a deep breath, remind yourself of your purpose and the goal you are trying to achieve and have faith that someday soon your hard work will pay off with well-rounded, happy children who behave.

Re-think how you define discipline in your home. To discipline means to guide – so think about how you can use each and opportunity to guide your little one in the right direction. It will take some thoughtfulness and dedication on your part, but the results will be well worth the work.

Do you feel like you say "no" too much to your kids? What behavior techniques do you practice to help kick the "no" habit?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

About Kimberley:

Kimberley Clayton Blaine, MA, MFT, is the executive producer of the online parenting shows www.TheGoToMom.TV and www.MommyToMommy.TV and author of The Go-To Mom’s Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children and The Internet Mommy. For more great tips from the Go-To Mom, click here.


About the Book:

The Go-To Mom’s Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-58497-2, $16.95, is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers. For more information on The Go-To Mom’s Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children, click here to view Kimberley’s book trailer.

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