Discipline Techniques for Young Children

Alternatives to Saying "No"

Mother trying to calm crying child
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How many times a day do you say "no?" If you're the parent of a young child, it's probably quite often. The thing about "no" is, when it's used too often the meaning can become diluted and quickly lose its effectiveness.

The good news is, saying no isn't the only discipline technique parents can use with kids. Here are some things you can do when your child isn't on their best behavior.

Option to Say "Yes"

Saying "Yes" doesn't mean you should always agree to your preschooler jumping on the bed or acquiesce to their request for another ice pop. What you can do is change the game a little bit by offering something similar to their original request.

Always offer your child choices that are acceptable to you regardless of what they decide on.

Try saying, "I don't know if jumping on the bed is such a great idea. Can you show me how high you can jump here on the floor?" or "You've already had an ice pop today. You can have another one tomorrow. Why don't you have some other snack instead?"

Say "No" Differently

Sometimes you have to say no, but if you are tired of saying that little word over and over again, there are other words you can use in its place.

Depending on the situation, "Stop!" "Hot!" "Danger!" are all acceptable substitutes for "No."

Buy Yourself Some Time

A distraction can be your greatest ally. If your child asks to go outside and play but you aren't ready for them to do so yet, redirect them with something else.

Try saying, "We'll try to go outside in a few minutes. While you wait for me to finish up the laundry, why don't you play with your trucks?"

If what your child is asking for isn't an option for you in the near future, be honest and say so. "We can't go outside today, but play with your dollhouse for now and we'll see if we can do something fun after lunch."

Choose Your Battles

"Pick your battles" is a well-known expression for a reason. In this case, think about what you are saying no to. Is it something that you can let go?

Would it be the worst thing in the world if your child wore her princess costume to the grocery store? Is it really so bad if your son plays with the pots and pans while you cook dinner?

If you want to reduce the number of times a day you say no to your child, think about what it is you are rejecting and see if there is a way to change your behavior.

Make Sure You Are Consistent

If you threaten to take something away or say you aren't going to do something if they continue a certain behavior, make sure you follow through. Otherwise, you are just making an empty threat that won't mean anything to your child.

For example, if your child consistently turns on the faucet in the bathroom sink and you've told them that if they do that again, they can't watch television, carry out the punishment. If you don't, your child will learn that your threats are just that—and they'll continue to behavior undeterred.

Challenge Your Child to Get You to Say Yes

Justine Miller, a mom to twins who lives in New York, says she used to keep a daily chart of how many times she would say yes and how many times she would say no.

"I found when my kids were accountable for their behavior and saw how many times they would get in trouble for something, they became more aware of how they would act during the day. Soon I wouldn't have to say, 'No jumping on the couch!' because they would remember."

Miller said that soon enough there were more days where she was saying yes than no and everyone was much happier. Miller said she implemented a reward system. On days where "yes" was heard more frequently, she would bring her boys to the dollar store for a treat.

Know That "No" Isn't the Worst Thing to Say

Every parent has to say "no" to their child at times. When you do, be firm and don't waffle. When kids make a poor choice or need to be corrected, it's important that parents know when to say "no" and are able to enforce zero tolerance policies on unwanted behavior as well as reward them for good behavior.

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