A More Powerful “No” to Parent Effectively

Our children don’t like to hear it, but we need to say it…and they need to hear it! It’s true. They need to hear us tell them “no” at the appropriate times. They need to hear “no” so they remember they can’t have everything they desire or do everything they want to do. They need to hear “no” so they learn the limits of appropriate behavior and the boundaries of safe behavior. They need to hear “no” so they can learn to say “no” for themselves. (Read Prelude, Fugue, and Variation to learn more.)  In fact, Magda Gerba revealed great insight when she said, “A child who is never told ‘no’ is a neglected child.” So, do not neglect your child, tell them “no.” But, make your “no” effective with these two components.

  1. Effective “no’s” are well-timed. Saying “no” at the wrong time can make things worse. I remember going to a children’s camp where, at the beginning of the week, the camp leaders explained the rules: “No throwing rocks.” “No going into the woods.” As the leaders stated these limits, these “no’s,” I saw the campers eyes light up with the realization that there were rocks to throw and woods to explore.  The “no’s” had the opposite effect of the leaders’ intent. The “no’s” aroused previously unknown possibilities in their awareness. Rather than preventing unwanted behaviors, they presented the possibility of new behaviors. The “no’s” were ill-timed. A well-timed “no” increases safety, like “No darting into the street” or “No texting and driving.”  A well-timed “no” promotes health, like “No cookies before dinner” or “No staying up all night to text.” Remember, an effective “no” is well-timed.
  2. An effective “no” needs to be part of a larger and thoughtful repertoire of variations on “no.” In fact, an effective “no” may not even sound like a “no.” One of the most effective ways to say “no” is to add a “yes.” For instance:
    1. Rather than “No hitting,” try saying “Keep your hands to yourself.”
    2. Instead of “No cookie before dinner” try “We’re saving the cookies for dessert.”
    3. “No yelling in the house” could become “Please use your indoor voice” or “You can yell all you want outside.”
    4. Rather than saying “Don’t you get angry at me” try “It’s OK to get mad, but you can still speak politely and act nice…even when you’re mad.”
    5. “No running” may become more effective as “Please walk with me and keep me company.”

Our children need us to speak “no’s” into their lives for their safety, health, and overall well-being. Following these two principles—making your “no” well-timed and developing a large and thoughtful repertoire of variations on “no”—will make your “no’s” even more effective.


  1. Good advice John. I will have to remember these for when mt grandson gets older.

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