Do’s and Don’t of Saying “NO” to Your Child

When you say to your toddler, “careful—don’t spill that!” you may actually be putting the thought into their mind that they can spill their drink. All they heard likely was “spill that.”


Saying the word “no”—along with related terms like “don’t” and “shouldn’t”—is a reflex we all default to. However, you can limit the use of those words and still set healthy boundaries for your toddler. The goal of saying “no” less frequently is to redirect your toddler away from what you don’t want them to do and toward what you want them to do.


Speak in positive terms

Speaking in favourable terms allows your toddler to problem-solve and develop critical thinking skills. Instead of hearing what they can’t do, they’re able to focus on all of the possibilities of what they can do.

Change your language

Instead of saying “careful—don’t spill that!” you might say something like this: “thank you for using two hands to keep the milk in your cup.”

Describe what you want

Research shows that adults only listen to parts of sentences, which is even more true for toddlers. Describing for your child the behaviour you want to see avoids suggesting or reinforcing what you don’t want them to do. As much as you can, show your toddler what you want them to do instead: “here’s how to give gentle touches” (instead of pulling the dog’s tail) or “here’s how to stack the blocks” (instead of throwing them).

Don’t let them become immune.

The word “no,” if used too often, can make your toddler tune out—the word loses its meaning for them. In other words, they become immune to it.

Explain why

Explaining why something isn’t okay with you helps your toddler learn to make better choices over time. For example: “Taking off our shoes as we enter the house helps keep the floors clean.”

Validate their feelings

Instead of saying “no, you can’t have that” when your toddler wants something in the store, try saying, “I can tell you really want that toy. It looks extraordinary, but we aren’t going to buy it today.”


RedirectRedirect and talk about what you want them to do by saying, “let’s see if we can find a better way to do that.” 

Save “NO!” for emergencies.

A passionate “NO!” can be just the right thing in an emergency. Also, consider trying words like “STOP!” or “STAY THERE!”

Note to parents: Changing language habits can be challenging; speaking takes practice. Be patient with yourself

One response to “Do’s and Don’t of Saying “NO” to Your Child”

  1. Connect with me on Instagram & Tiktok at @faithandmamaa


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