How to Respond to Kids Instead of Just Saying “No”

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Chances are if you clicked this post, you are looking for alternative ways to set boundaries instead of always saying “no”, “stop” or “don’t”.

Those words definitely have their place in parenting, but could we use them a little less, making our communication more positive?

Could we switch it all around and adopt a “here is what you can do” attitude, instead of always saying what they aren’t allowed?

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of positive and gentle parenting.

Of course, it’s impossible to agree with every.single.thing you find out there under these titles, some of the principles I agree with:

-Kids are whole human beings who deserve to be treated with respect.

-Corporate punishment, yelling, shaming, belittling and harsh punishments have no room in a loving parent-child relationship.

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-Kids learn best in a calm environment when they feel well,  not when they are made to feel bad.

-Stress hormones, fight or flight responses and immaturity are existing and normal part of childhood that should be considered when parenting children.

-Setting firm limits and boundaries with empathy is the way to respectfully discipline a child.

-Adults apologize too and instead of forcing kids to “say sorry”, we model it while encouraging empathy.

-Positive parenting is not permissive, instead, it focuses on keeping the parent-child relationship intact above everything else.

With that said, these are the principles that guide this post in providing alternatives to negative type of communication.

I want to make it very clear that positive and gentle communicating does not mean permissiveness.

We need to tell our children no, set boundaries and teach proper behavior.

But when they are in the heat of the moment or absorbed into their own world, it is easy to dismiss that short “don’t” in the beginning of a sentence.

“Don’t jump on the couch” may turn into “jump on the couch” or just into confusion as to what to do instead.

Often times, kids hear “no” so often that they learn to tune it out.

When hearing a firm no and/or threats, they also are much more likely to try and disobey, because kids tend to enjoy that.

“What’s gonna happen if I try anyway?” – they think.

This doesn’t mean your child is evil. It just means your child is human and curious. He will make bad choices and he does learn by experimenting.

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But by constantly throwing “no” and “don’t” at them, we invite a power struggle that deteriorates that precious parent-child relationship we want to protect. 

Such orders will put you in the “bad guy” seat, and your child into the “victim” role, making it look like you are on opposite sides.

In reality, however, we want to be our children’s teammates who are on the same side, fighting for all the values we try so desperately to instill.

We can’t be on both sides.

As for me, I choose to be on their side and whatever does not support that, I reconsider, examine and change accordingly.

That is why I started using a more positive type of communication with my little ones.

It’s not that every “no” or “don’t” is bad.  It’s more about giving a chance to kids to see what they COULD do, instead of just barking orders for them to quit already.

If you’d like to read more about this, check out my post on “How To Help Kids When They Cry Instead of  Saying Stop It.”

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This was a brand new idea to me as well, until about 6 years ago, when I was first faced with my own hypocrisy and possible consequences of traditional parenting.

My then 1-year-old daughter hit her friend and I did what most parents would: took her to another room and told her I will pop her hand because she hit and we don’t hit.

When I did, I saw it. Her eyes.

Full of questions. Full of surprise and uncertainty.

“How can I say we don’t hit, but I hit her to teach that?”- I thought.

Isn’t there a better, truer way to discipline kids and help them learn?

This incident is what started my journey and ever since we added two more kids and a lot more experience.

I am still learning every day and I by no means do these principles perfectly.

I am human too. I let myself and my kids down.

But the principles and ideas stand firm nevertheless and I will work towards getting closer and closer to be the best parent I can be for my kids.

If you are ready to jump on board or just curious about this new ideology, read these ways about how to respond to kids instead of just always saying “no”, “stop” and “don’t”.

Once you get into a more positive mindset, you will find how often we parents could direct attention to what is allowed instead of highlighting what isn’t.

Situation 1.

Negative: “Stop jumping on the couch already”

Say instead: “You can sit or lie down on the couch. If you want to jump, you can do it on the trampoline”.

Situation 2.

Negative: You won’t be going to that sleepover unless you clean your room and do your homework.

Say instead: “You are welcome to go to that sleepover as soon as your room is clean and your homework is done.”

Situation 3.

Negative: “Don’t be so loud!”

Say instead: “I like it when you speak quietly.” or

“In the house, we use inside voices, but if you need to be loud, please go to the backyard/closet, etc.”

Situation 4.

Negative: “Stop hurting your sister.” “Don’t hit!”

Say instead: “You are mad. You can stomp your feet or yell in a pillow, but we act kindly towards our family members”. or

“I hear that you feel hurt, but I won’t let you hurt your sister. How can I help you feel better?” or

“We use our hands gently.”

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Situation 5.

Negative: “Don’t eat like a pig. Look at the mess you made!”

Say instead: “Looks like you need a hand cleaning up all that spilled food. I bet you can use your fork from now on.”

“Look! This is how we eat.” (demonstrate).

Situation 6.

Negative: Why can you never listen? How many times do I need to tell you…?”

Say instead: “You don’t like what I asked you. I am going to help you do it.” or

“You have a hard time listening. So you can either choose to do it or sit here with me until you are ready to do it.” or

“When an adult talks to you, the right thing to do is to respond with.” (insert whatever you want your child to say)

Situation 7.

Negative: If you don’t stop talking back, you will sit in time out!

Say instead: “As soon as you can talk to me respectfully, I am ready to listen”.

Situation 8.

Negative: No, I said you cannot have more ice cream today. You already had plenty.

Say instead: You will be able to have more ice cream on another day.

Situation 9.

Negative: No, you’re not getting anything else to eat!

Say instead: Dinner isn’t your favorite, but this is what I cooked today. I will make your favorite on another day.

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Situation 10.

Negative: No, don’t be mean!  If you don’t share your toy, we are going home.

Say instead: You really love that toy, it’s hard to share. Can you give it to your friend by yourself or do you need my help? or

“Your friend would like to take a turn. Could you give the toy to her when you’re finished?”

These examples show a few different ways to address everyday behavioral issues, boundaries and setting limits.

There are gazillion times more, the sky is the limit.

What this article was meant to do is help parents see that there are ways to better communicate and still be in charge.

Our kids are the most precious possessions we will ever have, God-given gifts who’s life we help shape.

Let’s not be afraid to try something new that may just change our lives.

I know it did for me.

And even when my kids don’t listen, talk back and act up, the way I turn towards them will remain the same.

I will strive to treat them with respect, empathy and positive communication because that is the right thing to do, not because it “works” all the time.

There is always room for growth, forgiveness, and grace.

Don’t let your chance slip by just because you are afraid of something new.

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I have read a quote somewhere that said:

“If you want to have something you never had, you will have to do something you have never done.”

Our kids are worth it.

Our relationships are the most important.

And it is possible to have great ones!

I have learned a lot from and  continue to be inspired by the following parenting blogs:

Aha Parenting

Janet Lansbury

Zero to Five

L. R. Knost

Rebecca Eanes

I hope this post encourages you to find alternatives to negative communication and use “no” and “don’t” less often. I promise it will be worth it!

If you have tried positive communication, would you share your experience in the comments?

If you found this post helpful, would you please share?

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