3 Reasons to Say ‘No’ to No

“No” is one of the most commonly used words in parenting. 

Some of you are nodding your heads in agreement while some of you are shaking your heads.  Does “no” really get used that often?

The truth is that the minute babies become toddlers and begin to move around, “no” becomes part of the parenting vocabulary.  We use it to alert our children to danger, we use it to stop a sibling squabble or two, we use it to answer many, many questions, and, if we’re being honest, we use it when we’re tired and cranky.

“No” gets thrown around with great frequency.  And while some kids respond quickly to “no”, others seem not to hear it at all. 

How can it be that one of the most frequently used words in parenting often goes unheard?  Simply put:  overuse.

Below are three reasons to say no to no.

no challenge
Image via Katie Hurley

Loss of meaning:

When no is used frequently throughout the day to answer requests big and small, it begins to lose its meaning.  Once a powerful word reserved to signify pending danger, it becomes just another word that mom and dad say.  When children hear “no” frequently, they begin to tune it out.

You need “no” to retain its meaning.  There will come a time when your child runs into the streets, attempts to jump from a couch (or something worse), or wanders off in a public place.  When danger is near, you need “no” to have meaning.

Negativity is contagious:

People always reference the fact that smiling is contagious.  When those around you are happy and smiling, you feel happy too.  It works both ways.

Negativity, in the form of anger or depressed affect, is contagious.  If you struggle to remain positive, yell and argue frequently, and lead with pessimism, your children will do the same. 

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There is a reason we jump up and down and cheer when our toddlers fall:  It removes the fear and lessens the pain.  When they see that we aren’t worried, they pick themselves up and try again. This works at every age and every stage.  Sure, we all have bad days.  But when the bad days outnumber the good and the “no’s” outnumber the “yes’”, our children suffer for it.

We have to focus on the good and rely on positive interaction.

It won’t extinguish the behavior:

“No” is a temporary fix.  A Band Aid when danger is near.  It will stop a behavior in the moment. 

But it won’t extinguish the behavior.

I hear parents make the same argument over and over again: Kids don’t need explanations; kids just need rules.  The truth is that kids do need some explanations.  They need brief, short and to the point, explanations, but they need explanations.  Kids test limits and take risks because that is part of growing up.  It’s very much tied into moving toward independence.

When you just say “no”, they hear that they can’t do anything fun or adventurous.  When you explain that jumping from the bookshelf is likely to result in a broken arm, they hear that there is a reason to think it through first.  Talk it out.  Help your child learn to stop and think before acting by providing some much needed information.

{ MORE: I Was the Perfect Mom ... and Then I Had Kids }

Are you willing to take the “no” challenge and say no to no?  Can you go three days without using “no” unless danger is present?

What do you think?

3 Reasons to Say ‘No’ to No

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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25 comments

  1. life says:

    i agree on something but you have to explain why no means no to a child when they do wrong or cant have something. is a good idea it helps them to understan . what is right or wrong or whats good for them or not… i explain to my son why he cant have to much candy only because his dentist said he teeth are to soft and that the sugar can rotten his teeth fast so he knows why he cant have so much or if i say no its no…

  2. MAMASEXXY says:

    I FIND THAT NO CAN BE USED FOLLOWED BY EXPLAINNING WHY YOU SAID NO. THIS HAS WORKED WITH ALL OF MY CHILDREN.

  3. Dj says:

    I agree to a point, wouldn’t it be easier to have substitute words for danger, to stop bad behavior

  4. SweetBabyRae says:

    I just had a very similar conversation with my friend the other day! Great read!!

  5. jmd says:

    Great article

  6. Nconrad88 says:

    I think I will take that challenge even though I don’t feel I use the word "no" to often! I agree that "no" is definitely overused! It is so common that I feel a lot of people don’t even realize how much they say it! I’ll pay more attention to my use of the word "no" from here on out!

  7. LeL079 says:

    I use the word, "No" when my son is doing something dangerous like trying to climb the couch (he’s only 7 months old) and I use the word, "Stop" when he’s doing something I don’t want him to such as trying to roll over when I’m changing his poopy diaper. I also use a different tone of voice between the two words. I always hear from other parents that the word, "No" will be a popular word in my child’s vocabulary if I use it too much. Good article!

  8. nichole says:

    ive seen no overused so many times its crazy! granted, i have my days, like any parent, but for the most part its things like "please dont do that, youll (enter reason here)" and such like that. no is used for dangerous reasons, but i also explane why. anyone who thinks kids dont need an explanation, even if its as simple as "you can get hurt", is crazy. ask any kid who grows up always hearing no, but no reason, theyll tell you mommy and daddy are mean. watch a kid who is given a reason, they will pass the reason onto their freinds. my kids do it all the time..

  9. jlm2200 says:

    I completely agree that the word ‘no’ is over used in some households and I have seen first hand that it loses its affect on some children. However, I, personally could never go without it! If used moderatley and correctly, it is absolutley affective. I really liked the part about negativity being contagious….so true. It’s also something I don’t realize sometimes & definitely have to work on. All & all, good read!

  10. Ayo says:

    great write-up! and thinking about it now, ‘no’ is overused. Good advice to every parent. My one piece…if you have to say no, you can say it in other ways. Save ‘NO’ for when you really need it.

  11. Maria says:

    Great article, especially for new parents who are just starting… I agree with all that’s said above and I will try and see how my baby will turn out and perhaps consider the challenge. Although, as I have experience with behavior in toddlers I would say that if we look at the big picture, it’s not just this one word that’s going to discipline our kids, it’s how we discipline ourselves and how we present ourselves.

  12. MAMASEXXY says:

    I WILL CONTINUE USING NO AND EXPLAINNING MY REASON FOR SAYING IT. THIS WORKED WITH MY DAUGHTER, WE HAVE NEVER HAD A NEGATIVE RESPONSE FROM HER, SHE UNDERSTOOD AND DIDN’T REPEAT THE ACTION OR ACTIONS.

  13. MayraNPaully says:

    saying NO to ur baby love may be hard….my baby is only a month and three weeks so "no" isnt used too often…..YET, but if i do have to say no at times it will only be for her own good 🙂

  14. Guerita<3 says:

    i still don’t use the word no with my baby since he is very small and he sleeps a lot and is great but i have definitely learned something from this article. I will retain myself when using the word no…

  15. Definitely something to think about.

  16. Im willing to take the challenge however i tell my daughter no and she gets it and shes happy she needs to know all of her boundaries not just when theres danger

  17. rgmommy says:

    I think that no is something that you can say. It doesn’t necessarily just mean negative things. I think that it is only ignored if you aren’t differentiating between a simple no and a you are in danger no. When it is something that they shouldn’t ignore such as if they are going to go in the street or whatever you have to use a stern voice. Children are smarter than people give them credit for and they will pick up on the urgency of the one simple word even if they do hear it other times. It’s fine if you want to explain it to them after the fact, but you don’t have to explain everything.

  18. Elfie says:

    This is definatly something to think about

  19. lonsky1016 says:

    I use No… I will try and find an alternative way…

  20. JUBY says:

    It is a challenge to keep the real meaning to a NO when you have toddlers and teens. ?

  21. KEIYONDA says:

    THE YOUNGER THE HARDER

  22. mommymormor says:

    It’s hard to not say no.

  23. Melissa says:

    Idk about this… some of it makes sense but I tell my children "no" when it’s necessary and they are still very happy children. I’m happy and playing with them often but when they are doing something that they shouldn’t be doing that could potentially harm them I do say no in a stern tone and let them know why I’m saying no and the message gets across.

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