Share this article

print logo


Q. I get tired of having to say no constantly to my children. What would be the consequences of just going with the flow more? Is there a better way?

-- B.E., Cleveland, Ohio

A. It's not unusual for parents to dislike using the dreaded no just as much as children despise hearing it. Little things -- like putting yourself in your child's place and learning to rephrase a simple sentence -- are sometimes all it takes to turn things around.

"Try to imagine what it's like to have someone saying no to you many times during the day," says Virginia K. Stowe, author of "Tired of Nagging: 30 Days to Positive Parenting" (Bantam Books, $11.95, Canada $16.95). "If it's possible to say yes, then why not say yes?"

To reduce the mutual frustration, change "no" to "yes" by focusing on what your child can do and when, instead of what she cannot do, Ms. Stowe and several readers suggest.

An affirmative response such as "You can have ice cream after we eat dinner" instead of "No, you can't eat ice cream before dinner" often results in a more cooperative child.

Reader Brad Larson of Gig Harbor, Wash., agrees. "Instead of the constant barrage of no, I make a concerted effort to reword my phrases to put a positive spin on what I want my children to do," she says. "I feel they respond to me in a better way."

Younger children especially understand "the positive message better than the negative one," says Joanne Brothers, a reader from Midlothian, Va.

Letting a child have a say in some basic decisions can also help.

"I wouldn't compromise something I feel strongly about -- like holding hands when you cross the street," Ms. Brothers says. "On the other hand, if my preschooler wants to wear clothes that don't match, that's a little less important."

Letting a child make small decisions, such as how to comb his hair, builds the problem-solving skills that lead to a more independent child, says Claire Kopp, author of "Baby Steps: The 'Whys' of Your Child's Development in the First Two Years" (W.H. Freeman, $15.95).

"Parents should sit down and figure out what choices kids can make," says Ms. Kopp, a psychology professor at Clairemont University in Clairemont, Calif.

Parents can avoid the negative by making certain actions -- such as picking up clothes and putting on seat belts -- part of the daily routine, Ms. Kopp says. Set up a routine slowly and offer incentives, she suggests.

Replace "no" with "maybe" or "I'll think about it," suggests reader Angela Amodei of North Providence, R.I. Telling a child that you'll think about a request lets him know you care about his feelings.

A parent who takes time to think about whether the child's demand is reasonable is more likely to stick to the decision, experts and readers agree.

"Choose the behaviors that truly need to be changed carefully, instead of responding 'no' so frequently that your child feels he can't do anything right," says reader Anne Mandlebaum of North Miami Beach, Fla.

Ms. Stowe offers these tips for parents who want to nag less often:

Offer children a 10- to 15-minute transition period between activities. A child at play will be more cooperative if he knows ahead of time when he has to clean his room.

Let your child know the impact of his behavior -- both good and bad -- on others.

Assume your child wants to cooperate.

Empathize with the child when he is angry and frustrated. "That doesn't mean you necessarily have to agree with the child, it just means that you understand the child's point of view," Ms. Stowe says.

Can you help?

New bed: "We want to move our 22-month-old from her crib to a toddler bed," says M.J. of Dublin, Va. "She is wary of changes, so how can we make this transition easy for her? We are expecting our second child, and I would like for her to be in her big-girl bed before the new arrival."

Child Life is a forum for parents to ask child-rearing questions and share tips with other parents. If you have advice, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2322 Hales Road, Raleigh, N.C. 27608, or send e-mail to

There are no comments - be the first to comment