You have probably said your share of “no” before breakfast if you have a toddler (or any age child for that matter..) and you might be wanting to say that dreadful word less, but don’t know how.  You want to set limits, but you also want to parent in a positive way.

Here’s a way that you can do it:

When you want to say “no”, tell the child what they can do, when they can do it or when you can help them.

Here’s a bunch of examples and we’ll start with my favorite one:

When you are at the park and it’s time to leave and your child starts to get fussy, your reaction might be to say, “No more fussing!  Let’s get in the stroller!”

But instead, you can say, “Would you like to come back to this park next week?”

If your child is sitting in their high chair or at the table eating and they start throwing food, your first thought might be to say, “No throwing food, we eat our food.”

But instead, you can say, “Are you finished eating?” and then take the food away.

If you are getting your child ready for bed and they are asking for another book, your instinct will be to say, “No more books for tonight.”

But instead, you can say, “Let’s save this book for tomorrow!”

If your child is saying, “Pick me up, up up up!” you might respond by saying, “No, I can’t right now, I’m making dinner.”

But instead, you can say, (even if the child is fussing), “I can pick you up as soon as my hands are clean!”

If your child hits you or another child or person, you will need to set a limit, but you can do it in a positive way.  You will want to say, “No hitting”

But instead, you can say, “We take good care of each other.  If you need some space, just let me know.”

I find that the majority of the fussing happens when my children are hungry or tired, so many times, instead of saying no, I say, “Do you want a bite to eat?”  or “Would you like to lay down and snuggle for a bit?”  This doesn’t work at first because most children take a while to develop enough self-awareness to know what is bothering them.  But soon, they will be able to answer with a “yes.”

So if you stop saying “no”, you are not allowing the behavior, you are just letting the child know what is allowed.

This is still setting limits, but in a positive way.

The benefits from this type of communication are many:

Increases vocabulary

If you are just saying “no” all the time, chances are, one of the first words your child will say is “no”.  Then the tables will soon turn and they can use that word against you when they get a bit older. But if you are really talking with your child and explaining things, then they pick up on all of those words and will have a bigger vocabulary in the long run.

Helps with problem solving skills

When you tell your child what can happen instead of what can’t happen, you are teaching your child that there are different options.  For example, when you tell your child, “You can throw rocks into the river if there aren’t any people or animals around, but it isn’t safe to throw rocks at people”, you are telling them that there is more than one option or more than one solution to a problem.  What is the problem? Throwing rocks hurts people and animals.  What is one solution?  Not throwing rocks at all.  What is another solution? Throwing rocks only when nothing is around.  What is another solution? Throwing balls or seeds instead of rocks. What is another solution? Going home.

Teaches delayed gratification and waiting skills

It is really hard for young children to wait.  Unfortunately, the best way to teach waiting is to have children wait. Instead of saying “no”, you can tell your children, “Yes, in a couple of minutes.”  Or as they get older and you can start teaching delayed gratification, you can say, “Yes, this weekend we can do that.”

So think about the Conditional Yes when your child’s behavior is unacceptable and instead of saying, “NO!”, say what can happen instead.