How to Say “No” Without Actually Saying “No”

Have you ever heard of Yes Days? It’s when you designate a day to just saying “yes” to whatever your child suggests or requests.  There can be rules, obviously, like putting limits on spending, or distances travelled. But have you ever tried it?

When  we say “yes” we open ourselves to more possibilities. Not to mention, saying yes to a child just FEELS good. Their smile, contentment, overall joy at being heard and understood. The happiness is contagious. Yes Days remind me of the Jim Carrey movie Yes Man, where he is bound to sat “yes” to everything, or live in the affirmative, and it leads him on some amazing and transformative adventures.

On the flip side, what does saying “no” do to the energy in your home? How does your child react to hearing “no?”  Probably the same way you want to react upon hearing “no” when you ask for something, right? While saying and hearing “yes” makes us feel lighter and spreads positive energy, saying or hearing “no” can close us off, shut us down, or make us feel defensive and upset.

We don’t have Yes Days in our home. Not yet, anyway. Our daughter is still a bit young to grasp the concept. But I really think there’s another reason behind having Yes Days. I don’t think it’s just to have a carefree day. Having a Yes Day challenges us to reframe our thinking. Of course there are things that happen and questions asked, and we have to say, “no.” But this is where we can learn to be creative. My husband and I have been using alternative ways to say no since it became necessary to tell her no. We discovered early on how easy it was to say no to pretty much everything our little one was doing. From crawling over to the outlets, to putting a clump of dog hair in her mouth, to flinging her food everywhere. We also discovered, like most parents, that she learned pretty quickly what “no” meant, and that when we said it she would immediately start to cry. We quickly learned that by avoiding the word no, we could avoid meltdowns. But how do you say “no” without using that word?

Think about how often situations arise in which we feel the need to say “no.”

“No, don’t touch that.”

“No, we can’t go to the park today.”

“No, you can’t wear that to school.”

“No, you can’t eat that for breakfast.”

“No! Stop hitting your brother!”

Those 5 sentences can realistically be said to a small child in a matter of minutes. Imagine the kind of atmosphere in that home during and after these interactions.

Instead of saying “no,” just reframing the sentence can change the energy surrounding the entire situation:

“I can’t let you touch that, it’s hot and it could hurt. Will you help me stir the batter instead?”

“I would love to go to the park! Right now we need to get ready for school, but you know what? We can go to the park on Friday.”

“I love that you picked out your outfit. It’s really cold out, though, so let’s get you in something that’ll keep you warm.”

“Mmmm, marshmallows are so good. Let’s save those for later so we have enough to make s’mores. Can I get you some yogurt with berries?”

“I see you hitting your brother. I can’t let you do that, you’ll hurt him. Can I help you with something?”

Validating your child’s feelings and desires, explaining yourself, and offering options and alternatives are positive ways to interact while still declining whatever it is they are asking for or trying to do. These are simply examples, and ones mostly geared towards a young toddler, and sometimes they take a bit longer than just shouting out, “No!” In the long run, though, these alternative statements are much more effective and not only allow your child the opportunity to maintain control over his choices, but also learn to compromise and build reasoning skills.

There are still situations in which saying no is absolutely warranted and even necessary. But saying the word too much can dilute the meaning and importance of the word. Especially if you’re saying it and not sticking to it.

Here’s some other great resources for alternatives to saying no:

How to Say No, Dr. Sears

How to Stop Saying No Forever, The Montessori Notebook

Stop Saying “No!” – Tips for Positive Parenting, The Kid Counselor