How To Say No To Toddlers

There are times in parenting when saying no as a form of child discipline doesn’t make sense. It’s better to offer choices and help kids develop reason.

The word “no” feels critical to child discipline for many parents. It’s the hard stop that precedes punishment, or when keeping a child from something they desire, saying no may even be the punishment itself. But a firm denial isn’t always the best tactic, particularly for parents hoping to teach a child life skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and even arguing. Those skills are instrumental in maturing, and the use of a “soft” no can help cultivate more thoughtful and intuitive kids. When done well, denial can even be met without a meltdown.


Don’t Give Kids a Consolation Prize

There is no way to really gauge a toddler’s potential reaction to any situation. In fact, a toddler will often go off the rails even when a parent says yes. A calm parent, though, can get on a kid’s level and help them calm down without a “no.” It starts by making them feel like they’re part of the decision and asking questions that lead to a no. This is a method of deflection and distraction and works by offering choices in line with the parents’ wishes and tolerances rather than the child’s. It works well, though simply changing subjects robs the child of closure.

Many parents will resort to giving a child a consolation prize. Not the thing they wanted, but the thing that will make them quiet. Such tactics simply create an expectation of gratification and an association in the child’s mind that they’re going to be rewarded for future denials. That disappointment will very likely translate into a kid throwing a fit. In fact, in hindsight, most meltdowns are the source of future laughs.



Offer Preschoolers Options

Once a child reaches preschool age, he or she is beginning to learn to reason — and manipulation. This is a good thing for their development and can work in a parent’s favor. In situations where parents need to give a denial, it helps to offer up alternatives to the requested activity, or allow a child to sort through pros and cons of what they want, with a little nudge toward the negative to help a kid arrive at the desired outcome.

If a parent is denying a request for something monetary, like the purchase of a toy, the parent can use the opportunity to explain money to the child, advising them to save. This stalls the denial and allows a child to spend time thinking about whether the end result is worth the effort. By doing this, you are letting your child feel like he or she is a participant in the decision. You will raise a thinking, feeling, independent, responsible child. If you’re giving in to your child’s request all the time because it’s quicker and easier, you’re really not doing your child a service because you’re not teaching him how to behave.

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