Alternatives to "No!"
What to expect at this age
Your grade-schooler knows what "no" means, and most of the time she's obliging. But once in a while she ignores your decree, or retorts with an annoying "Why not?" or even an infuriating "Make me!" Luckily, you have plenty of alternatives to this overused command — and it makes sense to use them. "Children often begin to tune it out, and you may find that it takes ten no's to get your child to respond," says Roni Leiderman, associate dean of the Family Center at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Whether you're trying to keep your child out of trouble or continuing your efforts to teach her right from wrong, try a better, more effective approach than the "n" word.
What to do
Rephrase and explain. Put a positive spin on your request, and your grade-schooler is more likely to respond in kind. Instead of saying no, clearly state what she can do instead. Rather than barking, "No! Don't throw the ball in the living room," for instance, try "Please go outside to play ball." If she talks to someone in a nasty voice, say, "We use kind voices when we talk to people." She's plenty old enough to understand explanations, so tell her why you expect her to behave better.
Offer options. Anyone — but especially a grade-schooler desperately seeking independence and self-control — would rather be given a choice than an order. If your child wants to put off her homework until after dinner, tell her she can — if she takes her bath before you eat. Her choice. If she begs for a piece of candy before lunch, let her choose from a selection of fruit instead, and explain why it's important that she eat nourishing food before empty calories. Or let her pick which kind of candy she'd like to eat — after lunch. Offer only alternatives you're comfortable with, and don't critique her choice.
Capitalize on your relationship. Most of the time, your grade-schooler aims to please, and she gets a real kick out of sharing secrets with you. So she'll love special codes — hints you can give her instead of no's. Maybe you call her by her initials when you want her to curtail her behavior, or perhaps you lightly tap her on the shoulder. Whatever the code, make sure she's crystal clear on it before you expect her to respond.
Avoid the issue. At this age, fewer and fewer situations drive your child to misbehavior, but it still pays to avoid the ones that do. If a particular playmate seems to push her buttons, for instance, invite a different friend over for a while. If she's too rambunctious for Great-Grandma Jenny's antique-filled home, invite Jenny to your house instead. You can't isolate your child from all situations where you'll have to say no, of course, but life will be easier for both of you — and you'll be able to say yes more often — if you limit them.
Ignore minor infractions. Life presents plenty of meaningful opportunities to teach your child discipline. Don't go looking for extras. If she wants to wear hot pink outfits to school five days in a row, why not let her? If she prefers pizza for breakfast and cereal for dinner, what's the harm? Remember this parenting mantra: Choose your battles. If she's safe and you don't haveto say no, let it slide.
Say it like you mean it. Of course, when her behavior does matter, and alternatives to no just won't cut it, don't waffle. Say it firmly (but calmly), with conviction and a poker face — "No! Don't tease that strange dog!" An amused "No, sweetie, I don't think so" sends your grade-schooler mixed messages and certainly won't discourage her. When she responds, give her a smile or a hug and follow up with something affirmative — "Thanks. Good job!"
Reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board
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Reprinted with the permission of Babycenter LLC. © 1997-2008 BabyCenter LLC. All rights reserved.
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