Do you feel like the “mean parent” for telling your kids not to do this or that? Here’s what to do when you tell your child no too often.
“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 kids “no,” sometimes even before they’ve misbehaved. Other times, we convince ourselves that they deliberately disobey all the time, forcing us to tell them “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 lack of boundaries, get in trouble, and even hurt themselves. We have to tell them “no.”
What to do when you tell your child no too often
As necessary as it is to tell your child no all day, consider how equally frustrating it is for her to be told not to do something over and over. 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 you need to give kids 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 reminders 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:
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. Your toddler 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 her not to grab it and get frustrated when she doesn’t, 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 Christmas ornaments, or you could give him a plastic 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.
Instead, let your child know what his responsibilities are and your expectations of him, all without pleasing. Be confident as you follow through with consequences consistently so he isn’t confused about what is and isn’t allowed.
And make sure you and your partner enforce the same rules and expectations to further avoid confusion. He might wonder why you get mad at him for touching your phone when your partner lets him touch his or hers.
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 directly, “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 angry reaction doesn’t make either parent nor child happy.
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, it can feel draining saying “no” all the time.
Instead, learn to 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 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 onto the ground.
Get more tips:
- Help Your Child WANT to Behave—Even when No One Is Looking
- 7 Things You Should NOT Do with a Defiant 2 Year Old
- Toddler Not Listening? 10 Things You Need to Do
- As Frustrating As It Is, Your Child’s Behavior Is Normal
- A Better but Not Always Easier Alternative to Timeouts
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and discover the ONE effective word to get them to listen and follow instructions. Download your PDF below—at no cost to you: