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As a psychotherapist and a parent of a three and a half year old daughter, I know first-hand the challenges of using the word “no” effectively. Let me first say that it is best to use the word “no” sparingly for the simple reason that it loses it’s power quite quickly (usually much faster than most parents think). When you do use it, use it with care and in situations where it is truly warranted.

Here are some tips:

-Say no when it is needed but don’t overuse the word.

-Be mindful of your voice and body language. Saying “no” and smiling will give a mixed message to a child. Change your voice and come down to a child’s level so that they can really hear and understand you. Changing your tone will really help your child to recognize that you mean business when you use the word “no”.

-Use short explanations such as “no, it is not ok to take the toy away from your friend” and move the child on to find another toy or activity. Parents tend to feel that they have to explain and re-explain to a child why they said “no”. You do not have to do this. Shorter is actually better because a young child does not have the intellectual capacity to follow your reasoning. Long explanations often make them feel more confused and frustrated.

-When you say “no” and move a child on to another activity, help them to re-engage into the new activity. Don’t just expect that once you say no your child will accept it and move on. You may have to sit with your child for a minute and help them to acclimate and move through the disappointment or frustration of having been told “no”.

-Help them to recognize the feelings of disappointment when you say “no”. You can say “I see you feel sad that I said no. I know that it is frustrating when we don’t get what we want”.

-If your child keeps asking you over and over for something do not continue to use the word “no”. Instead, say I hear that you want something but I have already given you the answer”.

As a parent the priority is to set the boundary and stick to it. This is difficult because on an unconscious level parents often encounter a sense of guilt within themselves for saying “no” in the first place. Thus, they feel if they could just get through to a child or get them to understand the concept, then the child will accept it in the future. Not the case. Children will understand the concept of the word “no” in their own time. In the meantime, let go of the guilt and feel good that you are teaching your child good boundaries and helping them to learn how to tolerate frustrating feelings of not obtaining immediate gratification.

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