Do you feel like the “mean parent” for telling your kids not to do this or that? Here’s what to do when you’re telling your child no too often.
A friend vented about how she keeps saying ‘no’ to her little boy, sometimes even before he’s done anything. (“He’s got food in his hand and I know he’s about to throw it on the ground,” she described.)
Maybe you find yourself in a similar situation. You tell your kids ‘no’ even before they’ve misbehaved. Or maybe your child deliberately disobeys and you tell her ‘no’ and ‘don’t all day long.
But then I realized how annoying it must be as a kid to be told not to do something over and over. “No” reincarnates itself in other forms. Phrases like “Please don’t play with that” to “You already had yogurt today. Eat a banana instead.”
I understand that a huge part of saying no comes with the duties of being a parent. Left unaided, kids won’t know what to do with themselves, can get in trouble and hurt themselves. We have to tell them ‘no.’
Side note: When my husband and I were first-time parents, we vowed never to say “no” to our child. We feared he’d retaliate and say “no over and over. Well… all that ever did was encourage him to find another word that meant the same thing. Whenever he didn’t want to do something, he’d say “Stay!” instead. Go figure.
What to do when you’re telling your child no too often
Then I wondered if we limit our kids too often, or for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we forget they don’t mean to get themselves into trouble. Maybe they just wanted to jump, and the couch seemed like a great place to do it. I reminded myself that there are effective ways to communicate and implement rules:
Prevent saying ‘no’ in the first place
- Keep off-limits items just that: off-limits and out of reach. When our kids grab scissors, it’s also our fault for placing it at an accessible place to begin with. Sure, we can tell them not to grab the scissors over and over and get frustrated when they don’t follow the rules. But if the scissors are sitting within easy reach, we should remember not to put them there in the first place.
- Keep an eye on your kids. Whenever my four-year-old seems too quiet, I know trouble is brewing. Just the other day, I was thinking how awesome it was that he playing so quietly. Then I found him dabbing my foundation all over the counter with the makeup sponge. It took all of me to remind myself that he didn’t know any better. That I should’ve put my makeup out of his reach. We’d encouraged him to use a sponge with paint, the likely connection that drove him to do the same with my makeup.
- Give your kids appropriate items to play with. I could keep grabbing my nine-month-old each time he crawls to the Christmas tree to bat the ornaments. Or I could just show him a similar toy and redirect his attention elsewhere.
Be consistent with consequences
Kids can see through empty threats or hollow rules. Let your kids know the rules, without pleading and with absolute confidence. Then follow through with consequences consistently. Make sure you and your partner are enforcing the same rules to avoid confusion. You’ll save yourself the time and trouble of saying ‘Don’t…’
Keep your anger at bay
My four-year-old is at that age where, if he senses that I’m upset, will ask me directly, “Why are you mad at me?”
Just today, I gave him The Look and The Sigh when I saw him fiddling with the safety gate near the kitchen. He had no idea why opening and closing the gate would incur such an irritated reaction. But, exasperated, I still clipped at him, “Don’t do that.”
Establishing the rules is best said in a calm manner, not in the middle of an angry reaction. Kids don’t even realize what they’re doing wrong. They’re more upset at how we spoke to them than actually being “punished.”
Take a look at what to do when your child deliberately disobeys:
Pick your battles
On the spectrum of saying ‘Don’t…’ and ‘no’ too often or not enough, parents are likely to go bonkers on either end. Said too often, you’ll feel like a mean parent, not enjoying your kids and policing them instead. Not said enough and your kids will control the household to chaotic heights.
Instead, aim for a balanced middle ground. Some situations will need you to stand your ground. Others (ahem: balancing an older kid with a newborn?) call for more leniency for the sake of everyone’s sanity.
Even though we’re supposed to guide and teach our kids, it can feel draining saying “no” all the time.
Instead, learn to prevent misbehavior in children in the first place. Be consistent with the rules so your child knows what to do. Keep your cool so the situation doesn’t spiral downward. And finally, pick your battles—not all are worth your energy.
Soon, you won’t find yourself being the “mean parent” saying “no” all the time. Even if it looks like they’re about to fling food across the room.
Get more tips:
- How to Discipline a Child: The Ultimate List of Resources
- Help Your Child WANT to Behave—Even when No One Is Looking
- How to Avoid Saying Empty Threats
Tell me in the comments: Do you feel like you’re telling your child no all the time? How do you handle it?