Positive Parenting 101: Say ‘Yes’ More and ‘No’ Less

Little Miss Three Year Old, likes to say ‘YES!’
Little Miss Three Year Old, likes to say ‘YES!’

Say ‘Yes’ More and ‘No’ Less

Just about every kid’s most frequently used word is ‘NO‘.  It sometimes comes out even when they mean to say ‘yes‘!  Really, it’s bizarre behaviour and can often be quite maddening for parents.  Some kids, especially toddlers, are so persistent with saying ‘NO‘, that even if the answer to the question is most certainly ‘yes‘, they still say ‘NO!’.  I’m sure you know what I mean.

So, what’s the go with kids saying ‘No‘?  How did they start it?  And, how does it reverse itself?  How can we turn the ‘No‘ into ‘Yes‘?  I recently read a little bit of a book by Naomi Aldort, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.  Of course, I didn’t finish it, because I’m hopeless with reading books, but it did give me some pretty good reminders of some things that I already had known about.  It also gave me a few new tricks up my sleeve on how to ‘take the struggle out of parenting‘, or so she says.  And, I can attest to it, the past couple months of changing my attitude just slightly towards my kids has made a dramatic difference in the level of peace in our household (not to mention the change has been saving my sanity).

Why The Constant ‘No’

Kids are like parrots.  If they constantly hear ‘No‘, then they will constantly respond to every question or request with a, ‘No‘.  It’s as simple as that.  Sometimes we, as grown-ups, are not even aware that we’re saying ‘No‘ like a broken record all day long.  But, adults don’t always have to say ‘No‘ to a child.  Even if we don’t want a child to do something, there are many other ways to express ‘No’.  Also, we have to consider if we’re just saying ‘No‘ for the sake of saying ‘No‘!  Sometimes we say ‘No‘ to a child for no other reason than the fact that we were delivered ‘no‘ so many times during our own childhood!  It’s a negative pattern that many parents (and teachers too) can get stuck in!

Skill fully Saying ‘No’

The other day, Margo (3 1/2) grabbed a small pair of fancy sewing scissors off  the table and was walking around with them.  I certainly did not want her to use them in that way, as they are only for cutting thread and fabric.  So, rather than saying, ‘No, put those down, they’re sharp and you’ll hurt yourself!‘, our conversation went like this:

Me: ‘Margo, can you tell me what you want to use those scissors for?’

Margo: ‘I want to use them to cut my nails.’

Me: ‘Well, here are the nail cutting scissors, they have a round edge and are better for nail cutting.  Why don’t you sit on the couch and do it there so that your hand will be nice and steady so you can cut your nails more easily‘.

Seriously, that scenario could have ended in a meltdown for a three year old, but redirecting her was all it took. She took the round edge nail cutting scissors and sat on the couch to happily cut her nails (hooray).

Kids are like parrots!
Kids are like parrots!

Redirect Their Enthusiasm

Another day, I gave Margo a pack of markers to draw with (luckily they were the washable kind) and went off somewhere to take care of the baby.  When I came back, there was marker on the wall and on the wooden table.  I instantly dropped what I was doing (not the baby), and with purposeful urgency, grabbed a wet washcloth and started scrubbing the marker off the wall and the table.  Margo was watching me and when I was finished, I said, ‘Here is some paper, we don’t draw on the wall, we only draw on paper’.  She hasn’t done it since.

Another thing that Margo loves to do is help herself in the kitchen.  She loves to pour herself drinks and make herself food.  She spills drinks and drops food on the floor all the time.  Rather than tell her ‘No, you can’t help yourself because you’ll make a big mess‘, I just tell her that if she spills something, she either has to get me or grab a towel and wipe it up or at least tell me that something has spilled.  She doesn’t get in ‘trouble’ for spilling things.  Sometimes she grabs the ‘wrong’ towel, (she always seems to use the clean cloth nappies that are very valuable and I’m always running out of).  But, rather than saying, ‘Oh no, STOP, you’re using the wrong towel‘, I let her do it in her way because she’s doing her best to help and it’s not the end of the world if I have to wash one more nappy.  One thing that I try to never do is to dampen a child’s (or anyone’s) enthusiasm.  After all, which is more important, their feelings or the towel?

The same ‘redirecting’ technique can be used on babies.  For example, Goldie is 12 months old and likes to ‘help’ me by digging in the flower beds.  If I don’t like what she’s doing, rather than saying ‘No’ all the time, I simply give her a spade and let her dig in some dirt that is appropriate.

When to Really Say ‘No’

Kids certainly need to know what ‘No‘ means.  They don’t need to destroy your house and there are times when you can’t afford a mess at that moment.  I say ‘No‘ when I really mean it and when I’ve tried the skillfull way of saying ‘No‘ first, but it didn’t work.  I also certainly say ‘No‘ if a kid is in danger or about to hurt themselves or hurt myself or another.   If they’re going to run into the road, of course, yell at the top of your lungs, ‘NO!’  I also say ‘No‘ if it’s truly not the right time for negotiation.  For example, even though they were really little, both of my girls gave me a little nibble while they were breastfeeding at about the age of 8 months.  I gave a stern ‘NO!’ and took the boob away.  They cried a bit, and that was that!  They didn’t try it again.  I also say ‘No’ if the kid is showing obvious signs of being tired and delirious and any amount of skillful reasoning or negotiation is beyond their capacity.  They might cry over the ‘No‘, but I always feel like it was a cry that needed to come out anyway.  So, when they get like that, I deliver a big fat ‘No‘ with expected consequences.


Can you pick me up again, says the little one, and can I dress all silly says the big one… yesssss….
Can you pick me up again, says the little one, and can I dress all silly says the big one… yesssss….


What About When You Don’t Feel Like Saying Yes?

Sometimes saying ‘yes‘ is totally inconvenient to you.  That saying ‘Yes’ requires some extra effort on your behalf and you totally don’t feel like doing it.  For example, Margo always wants to turn on the bathroom sink to wash her hands and she needs my help to turn it off… so she asks me if I can turn off the water for her.  But sometimes I don’t feeeeel like walking down the hall and turning the water off, especially if I’m in the middle of something!  In these types of situations, where saying ‘Yes‘ is merely a matter of inconvenience, I ask myself again… what’s more important, encouraging her to wash her hands by herself or telling her ‘No‘ because I don’t feel like turing the water off for her.  Down the hall I trudge…. Kids are actually the teachers here too, it’s a two way street!

When they Say ‘No’, You say ‘Yes’

Despite when I use all of my skill, my daughter still says ‘no’.  ’Let’s clean up the toys‘, I say.  ’NO!’ is her big fat reply.  So, rather than pester her to help me, I just say, ‘Ok, but I want to clean up the house before we go for our walk (or whatever)‘.  I really believe that kids will pick up your good habits automatically when they are ready.  If they see you picking up toys enthusiastically, then one day (and may not be any time soon), but one day, they will also be picking up their things enthusiastically.  I never ‘discipline’ Margo because I firmly believe that she will pick up these habits of cleaning and behaviour on her own, just by watching myself and other adults in her life.  I mean, watching and learning is how kids pick up every other behaviour, so why wouldn’t they pick up on how to be responsible and caring for their environment?

Just Be Nice

Whatever you end up actually saying to a child, as in ‘yes‘ or ‘no‘, I guess it doesn’t really matter… as long as it’s said with awareness.  There’s no prescription for what to say in every situation or circumstance, but the general consensus is to just be nice and to consider that what you say to a child will inevitably be regurgiated out at some later stage.  This is one of my favorite parenting knowledge talks of all time, given by H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation, it’s called Parenting the Angels, he talks about skillfully handling children.  Wether you’re a teacher, parent or friend to a small person, they are all little angels and deserve a little more ‘yes‘ in their lives!  So, start saying ‘Yes‘… see what starts to happen!  You might find that a little ‘yes‘ goes a long way…



Kate is a mother to two girls, Margo and Goldie, born in 2010 and 2012. She started a natural parenting and sort of crunchy DIY blog just before my second daughter was born. Her and her husband moved from the USA to Australia in 2008. Originally, she came to Australia to do a master of education, but then they ended up staying. Although she's currently a stay at home mum, she was working in the public schools as a high school science teacher.

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