“No” Doesn’t Work

Our third child makes me feel like a first time mom. All those promises about the 3rd one being the easiest and most flexible all turned out to be empty. Baby J keeps all of us on our toes, and he especially humbles me. This is because the advice that I give to clients or the techniques that I’ve used as a parent with my older two children just don’t seem to have the same effectiveness. This little red headed wonder literally smiles, laughs, and does it anyway.

His latest trick is to slide open our fire place doors, grab a handful of rocks, and eat them. Horrifying. I’ve officially ruled out any nutritional deficiencies and have diagnosed him instead with rascal-ness. My approach when he does this is to say a very stern “NO!” I may or may not raise my voice as well. It’s very reminiscent of disciplining a puppy who’s just gone to the bathroom on the floor. Does it work? Absolutely one hundred percent this does not work. He proceeds to laugh and make quick swipe for those nasty rocks. Wash, rinse, repeat.

“No” is not always the most effective way to redirect behavior. In fact, a lot of times it flat out fails us. See above. Research shows children respond more positively to positive language combined with empathy and distraction. I’m sure no one else is pulling rocks out of their child’s mouth, but in case you are, here is a list of alternatives to “No!” as well as to some of our other go to phrases that have the potential to be more effective if we deliver them a little bit differently.

Instead of “No!”: 

Walking feet.

Quiet voice.

Gentle touches.

Instead of “calm down.

”I can see you are frustrated/upset/angry. Try taking a deep breath and then we can talk.

Instead of “Don’t yell!”

Why don’t you try that again?

How else can you say that?

Please use a talking voice instead of a yelling voice.

Instead of “you need to share.

It’s hard to take turns sometimes. What else can we play with while your friend has a turn?

Instead of “stop whining.”

I can’t understand you.

I’ll answer you when I hear a talking voice.

Try that again.

Positive speech. Empathy. Distraction. And firmly   secured fire place doors.

Keep up the good work.

Find the joy,


Jessica McCauley, M.Ed. is a parenting coach/consultant. She draws on her background as a Montessori educator and Child Life Specialist to help families navigate the challenges of the early childhood years. Contact Jessica at http://smallhandsbigsteps.com/contact/ for more information or to schedule a consultation.