Challenge: Just Say No to “No” for a Happier Home

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Little kids hear the same word over and over again. Sometimes it's out of necessity, as in toddlers running dangerously close to the street. Sometimes it's part of limit setting and establishing healthy boundaries. And sometimes it just seems to be the easiest answer. But when the answer is often “no,” kids can develop a negative thought pattern and get stuck in a loop.

Believe it or not, even very young children can sense and internalize parental stress. While “no” certainly meets a need in this parenting gig, it can cause problems when overused. Kids start to develop negative core beliefs in response to constant negative input. They feel like they can't win, like they can't do anything right, or like their ideas are no good. The good news is that it's fairly easy to break the cycle of “no.”

I once went seven days without using the word “no” at all with my kids when they were toddlers. It wasn't that I thought I was overusing it so much, but it was the dead of winter, my husband was on the road, and we were all sick and cranky. We were caught in a negative loop, and it was up to me to get us out of it.

That week was an eye-opening for me. I learned to stop overdoing it. I learned to hide out and take care of us while letting the phone go to voicemail and the email sit unanswered.

It was the week that I learned that sometimes being selfish, by way of putting our needs first, is the best way to ensure family harmony.

I also learned a lot about word choice that week. At first, the long pauses as I crafted positive responses that still included limits and boundaries felt awkward, but I learned to rely on phrases like “Let me think about that, and I will get back to you in five minutes” or “I'm not sure right now, but I can talk it over with Daddy later.”

The week without “no” taught me that we can rely more on positive input, even when under stress or in dealing with a difficult situation. That will create a more positive home environment. To this day, I reserve “no” for emergencies, and I rely on positive input at home instead.

Kids hear “no” in school, during team play, and out in the world. They learn to cope with negative input, and they learn to respect boundaries. Altering your own use of the word won't change that, but it just might make for easier days at home.

What do you think? Are you up to take the “Just Say No to ‘No' for One Week” challenge?

Here are some helpful hints to get you started.

feet in the sky
Image via Flickr/ Alle

Establish the pattern

Yes, sometimes you have to yell out loud to stop a little one from running into the street or wandering away in a public place, but those instances aren't the only times kids hear “no,” and shifting our use of negative input begins with understanding why we do it so much.


I find that I'm more likely to say “no” when I'm under stress or running late. For me, the key to positive parenting is putting my own stress into perspective, factoring in extra time, and keeping our schedule light.

Before you embark on a week without “no,” I encourage you to track your own stress level. What are the most common triggers in your home? What is happening during those times? Where can changes be made?

{ MORE: Parents Are More Powerful than Superheroes }

daddy daughter moment
Image via Flickr/ kris krüg

Pause for the cause

Parenting seems to be full of high expectations these days, and one of those expectations appears to be handling every problem with ease the moment it arises. Remember that thing about Rome not being built in a day? Kids aren't raised in a day, either.

It's OK to hit the pause button and regroup for a few minutes before you attempt to resolve a high-stress situation in your home. Sometimes, a little space from the trigger helps you approach it in a more positive light once you've had time to calm down.

Something that works in my house is a “relaxation break.” Instead of sending everyone to stew in timeout alone, I have each kid choose a story, and we cuddle up on the couch instead. Once we are all calm and level headed again, we tackle the problem.

Reading always works for us, but a quick dance party, a lap around the house, or a coloring break might work better for you.

blowing bubbles
Image via Flickr/ John Morgan

Say “yes” to the little things

I don't know about you, but five minutes before dinner is not my favorite time to start a brand new game or to begin a complicated art project. It does seem to be the best time for my kids, however.

Once I learned to factor in extra time for absolutely everything, I was in a position to say “yes” more often. Yes, we can do a twenty-minute yoga DVD before school. Yes, we can take a pajama walk before bed to look for stars. Yes, we can read three chapters tonight.

“No” might be a powerful word, but “yes” is a thing of beauty. “Yes” brings families closer together and reduces the overall stress level in the home.

And “yes” is tons of fun.

{ MORE: Teaching Your Toddler to Wait: 3 Tips }

What do you say? Are you ready to take the “Just Say No to ‘No'” challenge with us? Please come back and let us know what changes you see in your family!

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Challenge: Just Say No to “No” for a Happier Home

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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