Positive Parenting: Managing Behavior with Less "No"

Photo by Maria Manco / Stocksy United / 1197849
Photo by Maria Manco/Stocksy United

When it comes to parenting young children, it can be easy to fall into the habit of using the words “no” and “don’t.” Children, after all, do a lot of things we don’t want them to do—drawing on walls, for instance, or going for a ride on the family dog.

There is a problem with using no as the sole approach to communicating boundaries and limits. Hearing a regular chorus of no and don’t can leave children feeling frustrated with themselves and the adult who is trying to manage behavior.

Instead of telling a child what not to do all the time, a better way to manage behaviors is to tell them what you’d like him to do. By using specific directions and modeling the behavior you want to see, you’ll be able to work with your child in a more positive way.

These examples will help change the way you think about “discipline.”

1. A 10-month-old is enjoying a plate of table food by throwing every bite-sized morsel on the floor. Instead of saying “No, don’t do that!” her father playfully asks, “Where does the food go?” as he grabs a cracker and pops it into his mouth. “Oh that’s right!  It goes in your mouth!  Can you show me where food goes?”

2. An 18-month-old grabs a crayon from his art easel and heads for a freshly painted wall. His mother knows that he will probably ignore the word “don’t” if she exclaims, “Don’t draw on the walls!”  Instead, she rushes to him and says, “Crayons are used for drawing on paper. Where is the paper?” She walks him over to the easel as she says, “Let’s find the paper and we can draw together.”

3. A two-year-old knocks another child over in her excitement to reach the sandbox at the park. One of the other children notices and yells, “Hey, no pushing!” The child’s mother finds a better approach. She takes her child’s hand and says, “Oops! You hurt your friend while you were trying to get to the sandbox.  We say excuse me if we bump into someone. Let’s make sure your friend is okay.” After making sure the other child is alright, the mother leads her child to the sandbox and points out other children they should be careful not to bump into.

4. A three-year-old has decided that the family dog should join his game of make believe…and he is pretending to be a cowboy. His father sees him trying to climb on top of the dog as the faithful pooch looks up for help. The father responds quickly, but in a positive way. “Come here, cowboy! That horse is too small, and it might hurt him to carry such a big boy. We have to be gentle with the dog. Help me rub behind his ears to make him feel better. Let’s fold up this couch cushion and make it your horse for now.”

The next time you want your child to stop doing something, challenge yourself to address their behavior without using the word no. By avoiding this simple word, you can enjoy more positive interactions with your child—and be able to improve their behavior better too.

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