Four year olds are a joy, especially when they're sleeping. As a mom of a four-year old and a one-year old, the constant back-talk from our preschooler wore me out. Even the simplest request led to a melt-down, and my first inclination was to dig in my heels and push back. Our house turned into a battle zone, with mom and son on opposite sides of the battle lines.
My husband, a behavioral counselor, offered a radical suggestion. He insisted that we eliminate “no” from our vocabulary. I was confused. We should just give in?
Of course not! Children thrive on clear, consistent boundaries, but I used the word no so often that it lost all meaning. Our kids become so accustomed to hearing us parrot, “No, no, no,” that they tune us out entirely. Add in a strong-willed child, much like my oldest, and family life becomes a power struggle.
What is no-“No” parenting?
Quitting the no cycle is about learning a new parental vocabulary, while not giving in to your child's every whim. Just because you stop saying no does not mean that your child gets everything he wants when he wants it. In fact, no-“No” parenting helps you reaffirm your rules and family values in a way that children understand.
When you drop no from your vocabulary, you will find ways to rephrase requests in a way that fosters cooperation and reduces tantrums. Here are some suggestions to replace no with more productive parent-child conversations.
1. Acknowledge your child's feelings. Children interpret no as a flat refusal, not only of their request but also of their emotions. When you say no, your child hears, “I don't care how you feel.” Would you be cooperative with someone who ignored your feelings?
2. Offer an alternative time. If your little girl wants to go to the park and you need to go grocery shopping, offer an alternate time. Whenever possible, let everyone get what they want. You might say, “I know you want to play at the park. We can go after nap time this afternoon, but right now we are going grocery shopping.”
3. Offer an alternative activity. Sometimes kids want to do something that just isn't possible. Your little man might have his heart set on going to a birthday party, but you know it won't work. Try saying, “I understand this party is important to you. We can't make it, but we will have a family picnic instead.”
4. Issue a verb command. If your child is running towards danger, rough housing or being inappropriate, replace, “No,” with, “Stop!” then tell him the behavior you need to see instead, such as, “Stop! Wait for mommy before you cross the street.” Look at me, listen or freeze also work well as verb commands.
5. Give an appropriate number of options. Avoid asking your child open-ended questions such as, “What would you like to do.” Kids need options, but they should never be offered more choices than their age. For example, you can offer your two-year-old a choice of two outfits to wear, or give your four-year-old four options for dinner. Letting your children make choices gives them confidence and makes you look like the good guy.
6. Present one good and one bad option. If it is imperative your child do something, you can still give options. Offer the option that you need her to choose and one undesirable option. If it's time for your toddler to put on her shoes, say, “You can either put on your shoes or you can go to a time-out. It's your choice.” However, sometimes those little munchkins will choose the undesirable option, and you have to follow through! Be prepared.
I'm happy to say that becoming a no-“No” parent has changed our household. Although things aren't perfect, we've seen a drastic reduction in tantrums and back-talking. We've also seen an increase in cooperation and confidence in decision-making.
Try some no-“No” parenting techniques before you reach the end of your rope. It will change your family dynamics and put you and your child on the same team again, which is exactly where you belong.
Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan, mom to two crazy boys, and wife to one amazing husband. You can learn more about her eco-conscious lifestyle at moderatelycrunchy.com.