Why parents should stop saying NO

Do you get tired of finding yourself constantly having to say “No” or “You can’t” to your child? Well, you’re not alone. Many parents find that ‘Stop doing that’ or ‘You can’t behave in that way’ are phrases that they find themselves repeating on a daily basis.

“No” can actually have a negative effect on the brain

However, the latest research suggests that ‘No’ is a word best avoided as not only is this an ineffective way of communicating with your child, but using such terminology can actually have a negative effect on the brain. Of course, children need direction and guidance in order to understand what’s expected of them and how they should behave. But how can we do this without having to resort to using negative commands such as ‘No’, ‘Stop’, and ‘You can’t’?

Studies suggest that one of the most effective ways that we can do this is by using positive redirection, which is a way of focusing a child’s mind away from the disappointment of a ‘No’ or a ‘Can’t’ and towards something that is possible and positive. The idea is to ‘bond’ with your child using a positive statement, and then redirecting their demand to asking for something more suitable.

So even if you’re not planning to agree to something your child is asking for, don’t simply respond with a ‘No’. Try instead to start your answer with a ‘Yes’, and then follow this with a cheery alternative, choice or suggestion to be offered, either in the present or at a later time. This may sound counterintuitive to some, but it works. So, you could say “Yes you can have a sweet after your supper, but right now why don’t you have a carrot?”

You may be asking yourself how you’re going to say yes to something they are not getting anytime soon, “Yes, you can have a pony, when you are old enough and rich enough to pay for it yourself”.

Why it works

Saying ‘Yes’ or a using a positive statement rather than a ‘No’ (regardless of what follows), both acknowledges our child’s particular need at that moment and answers it in a non-confrontational, empathic way. They also feel you have listened to them. As this way of responding allows you to ‘connect’ with your child, it will significantly reduce the need or opportunity for the ‘Yes! No!’ power struggles that we can find ourselves in.

How to use Positive Redirection

If your child is asking for something that you’re not willing to give them:

  1. Begin your answer with a ‘Yes’ regardless of whether you intend to grant the request or not.
  2. Then you have the choice of:
  3. i) Offering an alternative time. For e.g., instead of “No, you can’t have an ice-cream before dinner”, try “Yes, you can have an ice-cream after dinner,” or;
  4. ii) Asking a question: “Is it time to have an ice cream/sweet…?” or if your child asks you if they can have an ice cream now, you can ask: “What do you think?”

You’ll probably be surprised by how often your child will be ‘reasonable’ and realise that it’s not the right moment

If your child is doing something that you want them to stop doing:

  1. Use a positive command (also called a ‘start’ command) expressed firmly, but without raising your voice (see e.g. below).
  2. If possible, suggest an alternative activity or an alternative way of doing things.


Instead of “Stop yelling,” try instead: “Please speak quietly.”

Instead of: “Stop hurting the dog,” try instead: “Gently pet the dog.”

Instead of: “Don’t slam the door!” try instead: “Please close the door gently, would you like me to show you how?”

As psychologists have found, putting a positive spin to these short commands (rather than focusing on the behaviour that we want our children to stop, e.g. “Stop yelling,”) is much more effective. It’s also worth remembering that some kids will keep repeating the same misguided behaviour, simply because they don’t know how else it should be done. It’s easy to forget that just as kids don’t come with a manual, neither do they come with instructions for how to behave. It is therefore essential to express our expectations clearly and positively.

So, when making requests of your children, try phrasing it in a positive way – you’ll probably be surprised by just how reasonable and responisive your child can be!

Kids dont come with a manual front cover

Kids Don’t Come with a Manual by Carole and Nadim Saad, Best of Parenting, paperback, £12.99 www.bestofparenting.com/books


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