How to Stop Telling Your Child No Too Often

Do you feel like the “mean parent” for telling your kids not to do this or that? Here’s how to stop telling your child no too often.

Telling Your Child No“I tell him ‘no’ so much, sometimes even before he’s done anything,” a friend vented. “He’ll have food in his hand, and I just know he’s about to throw it on the ground,” she reasoned.

We’ve all found ourselves in a similar situation, telling our young children “no” and giving them a warning, sometimes even before they’ve misbehaved. Other times, we convince ourselves that they deliberately disobey or throw temper tantrums all the time, forcing us to tell them the word no all day long.

The word itself is less important as the intention, so even if you never actually say the word “no,” you might have said “stop,” “don’t,” “quit,” or some variation of it.

Of course, as parents, we guide our kids and keep them safe, including telling them “no.” Left unaided, they’ll struggle with a lack of boundaries, get in trouble, and even hurt themselves. We have to tell them “no.”

But being told not to do something over and over can be equally frustrating for our kids as well. Even phrases like “Please don’t play with that” or “You already had yogurt today—eat a banana instead” can feel stifling.

Because however much we need to give them boundaries, we run the risk of limiting them too often, or for the wrong reasons.

We forget that they don’t mean to get themselves into trouble (they wanted to jump, and the couch seemed like a great place to do it). Perhaps they forgot to wash their hands, or that they weren’t even going to throw the dominoes across the room.

It makes you wonder whether we can communicate and enforce rules and responsibilities without being so harsh 24/7.

It turns out, we can. If you feel like you’re constantly on your child’s case and telling her “no” all day, practice these tips below to turn things around:

How to Set Boundaries with Kids

1. Prevent saying no in the first place

Take a step back and see whether you can prevent having to say “no” to your child in the first place.

For instance, keep off-limits items just that: off limits and out of reach. He wouldn’t have been able to grab the pair of scissors if it wasn’t at an accessible place to begin with. Instead of telling him not to grab it and get frustrated when he does the opposite, avoid putting it within reach at all.

I remember when I was enjoying some peace and quiet before I realized my son had been 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 and I should’ve put it away in a drawer.

We can also give our kids appropriate items to play with. You could keep telling your toddler to stop batting at the fragile holiday ornaments, or you could give him a wooden one instead.

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2. Be consistent with consequences

Kids can see through empty threats or hollow rules, refusing to follow them once they catch your bluff. They might whine to get a treat or or throw a tantrum about cleaning up their mess before bedtime.

Instead, let your child know what her responsibilities are and your expectations of her, all without pleasing. Be confident as you follow through with consequences consistently so she isn’t confused about what is and isn’t allowed.

And make sure you and your partner enforce the same rules and parenting style to further avoid confusion. She might wonder why you get mad at her for touching your phone when your partner lets her use his or hers.

Learn how to stop giving empty threats.

Empty Threats

3. Keep your anger at bay

I gave my son 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.”

Even at four-years-old, he would already ask me, “Why are you mad at me?

I then learned that establishing rules and explaining your expectations is best said in a calm manner. Trying to teach him not to fiddle with the safety gate in the middle of an angry reaction doesn’t make either parent nor child happy.

Another lesson I learned is to show empathy for what it must be like in their shoes. Perhaps they haven’t had your undivided attention all day, or they’re still coping with big emotions they don’t know how to manage.

Often, kids don’t even realize what they had done wrong. They’re more upset at how we spoke to them than actually having done the act in the first place.

4. Pick your battles

Saying “no” too often or not enough isn’t good on either end. Said too often and you’ll feel like a mean parent who can’t enjoy her kids, policing them instead. But not said enough and they’ll control the household and miss out on the boundaries they need.

Instead, aim for a balanced middle ground.

Some situations will need you to stand your ground—your child has to stop hitting her little brother. Others (ahem: balancing a toddler and newborn?) allow for more flexibility for the sake of everyone’s sanity.


Even though we’re supposed to guide and teach our kids, saying “no” all the time can feel draining and add to our frustration.

Instead, prevent misbehavior in children in the first place and be consistent with the rules so your child knows what to do. Keep your cool so the situation doesn’t spiral downward, and pick your battles—not all are worth the tears.

Soon, you won’t find yourself being the “mean parent” saying “no” all the time, even if it looks like she’s about to fling food on the ground.

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  1. What tips do you have for a toddler who shuts down during any form of correction or redirection?

    For instance, I’ll ask her if she’s finished with lunch and she’ll say she’s all done. I’ll then say that we should wash her hands and go outside (her favorite activity) and she’ll scream, “No!” The cycle continues at least twice every hour for the last few months.

    It feels like oppositional defiance disorder to me, but the youngest I’ve professionally worked with was aged 5. So I feel super lost as to how to support a two year old behaving this way.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Ashley!

      Oh boy, opposite day is not my favorite lol.

      One thing that has helped me in those scenarios is to give them choices. You can still say the task that’s non-negotiable (say, washing hands), but give her a choice with something (play outside or play with puzzles after).

      If she still screams no, you can say, “It looks like you’re not ready to move on. Let me know when you’d like to play outside and I can help you wash your hands.”

      Later, when she’s calmer, you can talk about how she can give her opinions (“It’s okay to disagree, but we don’t yell like that. That hurts my ears. Next time, you can say no quieter”).

      And try to point out the times she DOES behave, so that she doesn’t feel overwhelmed being corrected all the time. I know it feels like there’s nothing she does well, but praise her for even the tiniest thing, even if it’s sitting down well or playing nicely with someone else. That way, she learns that positive behavior gets acknowledged more than her negative behavior, and will continue to do more of that.