The famous Ukrainian pediatrician and author Evgeny Komarovsky refers his readers to the article by child psychologist Olga Kramarevich, who will teach you the right way to say no to your children.
Here are 8 tips on how to approach this tricky but unavoidable task:
1. Don’t ban your kids from having emotions and feelings. You’re only banning their actions.
Avoid saying things like “Don’t be mad,” “Don’t cry,” or “Don’t be scared.” Your child has a right to express any emotions, as long as they do it in an appropriate way. Your job is to teach them to vent their anger, frustration, or fear properly.
2. Avoid saying “you can’t.”
Frequent prohibitions make your child wary of trying new things in the future. Use words like “no” or “you can’t” one too many times, and they lose their power of persuasion.
If you’re dealing with a toddler, the best thing to do is distract them from the prohibited activity. Show them something that’s more fun, offer a favorite toy, etc. Always try to foresee and preempt the situations where you’ll have to deny them something.
A good idea is to put all dangerous or valuable things away so as not to tempt the child unnecessarily. On the other hand, you child ought to be able to satisfy his or her natural curiosity about the world around them.
So make sure anything you leave out for the child to stumble upon are things that can be safely touched, disassembled, and/or thrown around.
3. If you still need to tell them no...
Don’t use not-phrases (like “you cannot” or “you must not”). The child’s brain is not very good at parsing negative sentences, so when you say something like “Don’t touch the knife,” what they hear is “Touch the knife.” Plus overusing a word makes it sound hollow after a while.
So avoid phrases with the word “not.” Replace it with sentences like “It would be great if you did this,” “Stop,” “What I would do is…”, “Careful, that’s dangerous,” “We only wade through puddles when we’re wearing rubber boots,” etc.
4. Explain the reason behind the prohibition.
Saying “You can’t eat these chips” doesn’t really work unless you explain the dangers associated with said chips. By telling the child “not to go there” we’re taking away their choice.
So calmly and clearly explain what your reasons are: “This slide is too tall for you, let’s find a smaller one.” This way the child feels he or she has a choice—and you’d be surprised how often they make the right decision.
If your child is too young to understand you, simply distract them with something or take them to a safer spot.
5. Use a neutral tone of voice.
Any negative emotions you express your child will take to heart. If they hear anger and irritation in your voice, they will feel unloved and inadequate, while a playful tone of voice will make them think you’re joking and your words can be safely disregarded.
The more confident and calm you are in saying no and the better you explain your reasons for doing so, the better your child will understand you.
6. Offer your child an alternative.
It would be great if your every prohibition was followed by some sort of concession. After you prohibit something to your child, offer them a fun alternative. No, they can’t draw on the walls—but they sure can draw on a piece of paper stuck to the wall; no, they can’t push the dog—but they can push their toys.
We all know the forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, so think of an alternative to counteract the child’s disappointment after being banned from doing something.
7. Do not give in.
Your being inconsistent will only cause more harm. Your no should be final and non-negotiable. Make sure other family members are aware of the prohibition. Both parents should always act in accord.
Even if you’ve given in to your child’s pleas, explain to them that the reason you’re allowing them to do something that was previously prohibited is that you trust them, or that you believe any conflict can be settled without too much drama.
Remember, though, that giving in is only prudent if your child has met some of your conditions or found a way to work out a compromise. Never bow down to them if they’re throwing a tantrum or being intentionally difficult to blackmail you into giving up.
8. Establish a clear system of restrictions appropriate for your family.
Any family has its set of taboos, rules that must not be broken under any circumstances, such as “No name-calling,” “No opening the door to strangers,” etc.
What some families might consider acceptable others strictly forbid. Just remember you should have two or three taboos tops, or the child will not take them seriously.
Do you find these tips surprising? Or are you following them already?