When you live with small children, you are likely to hear the word "no" a lot. Children, especially toddlers, seem to love the word. Parents, trying to keep up with endless demands, may feel as though they are always saying "no".
You can help reduce the need for "no" by setting and sticking to limits. Children will always try to push the boundaries, but when there are firm rules in place, you can remind them as necessary. "We use our inside voices in the house." "We sit at the table until we are finished eating."
You can often redirect a child from an unwanted behaviour. Instead of telling her not to throw her toys, show her how she can roll or push them across the floor.
Giving your child small choices throughout the day can help eliminate a lot of "no’s". For example, if you ask your child to get dressed and he chooses to wear shorts outside in the middle of winter, you have to say "no". However, if you give the choice between the blue pants or the green ones, he still has some say in the matter and you will be happy with either choice.
Many times, a "no" can be turned into a "yes". When your child wants to go to the park as you are preparing lunch, you could say, "We are getting ready to eat right now. We can go to the park later this afternoon." You have told her that, no, she can’t go to the park at this moment, but yes, she will get to go later.
Of course, you need to follow through on your promise. If you will not be able to go to the park at all, offer another alternative such as playing together indoors after lunch.
Show empathy for your child. Maybe he wants a puppy, and that is not a possibility at this point in time. Let your child know that you understand how he feels, and allow him to express those feelings. "I wish we could have a puppy too. Maybe someday we will, but not right now. If you had a puppy, what would you name it? What would you do together?"
When a child hears "no" over and over, without explanation or redirection to a more positive activity or behaviour, she may become frustrated and turn to tantrums to get her way, or she may stop listening.
However, there are times when you simply have to say "no".
Issues surrounding your child’s health or safety are non-negotiable. When an attempt to redirect your child turns into a power struggle, you have to step in with a flat "no". If you use "no" sparingly, he will know you really mean it.
"No" is not a bad word, even though we don’t like to say it and children hate to hear it. Fortunately, there are many ways to turn a "no" into a positive learning experience.
Think of discipline not only as a way to stop unwanted behaviour in the moment, but also as a tool to teach your child self-discipline so she can learn to make decisions on her own as she grows.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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