Stop Saying No

You can watch the video version of this post on my Facebook page.

Today, I wanted to chat about something that drives me crazy. I wanted to kind of put a bee in your bonnet and give you something to chew on while I’m visiting sunny California- and that’s that I want you to stop saying no.

Like right now- stop it.

And I know- I KNOW- you’re all typing furiously going “Allana. Not saying no is what is wrong with parenting today. Parents let their kids do whatever they want and they turn into insane dictators with huge demands who get candy after they slap someone.” So before we go any further- let me be clear- I AM NOT TELLING YOU TO TAKE AWAY THE BOUNDARIES AND THE LIMITS. Capiche? I am simply asking you to stop using the specific word “no.”

And here’s why.

The dictionary states there are 4 functions for the word no: As a determiner- so as a short form of “not any.” As an exclamation- basically as a synonym for never. As an adverb- meaning not at all or to no extent. And as a noun- as in yes or no.

Notice that it isn’t listed as a verb.

You cannot “no.” It’s not something you can DO.

And yet- as parents- we tend to use it that way, don’t we?

Every time our young children misbehave we bark out “NO!”

And then we get upset when they “don’t listen.” Y’all. They aren’t listening because what you just said doesn’t make any sense.

That’s like me asking my husband what he wants to do today and him looking at me and saying “Red!” You can’t red! It’s an adverb, it’s a noun, and it’s a determiner. RED is not a verb. NO is not a verb!

What we USUALLY mean when we tell a child “no”– is STOP. Now there’s a verb! You can stop! Stopping is something you can do. Stopping is an action that a human being can engage in.

Now, I’ve heard many arguments FOR the use of no- but the one that keeps coming back again and again and again is “well kids learn language all the time- it doesn’t matter if we use no instead of stop because EVENTUALLY, they’ll learn what it means even though technically it doesn’t make any sense.”

Let’s break that down.

You’re frustrated because your child doesn’t listen to you. But- at the same time-  you’re expecting a young child, who is still learning how language works, to decode the social semiotics of what you mean when you speak to them in an ambiguous way that makes no grammatical sense- and to do it quick enough to act on it and comply almost instantly.

Does that sound like a reasonable expectation to put on a child of 1, 2, 3- even 4?

Cause it doesn’t to me.

There’s also the issue of rich vocabulary. Or rather- lack of rich vocabulary. We walk around going “no, No. No! Hey! I said no! No!” ARGH!! This drives me insane.

When I was pregnant with Owen- I used to take Logan to this local playgroup almost every morning because I was VERY pregnant and he was VERY active so we’d go to playgroup and I could sit and drink my tea and he could play till he wore himself out. And one morning it was particularly busy, none of my friends were there, and I was exhausted because I’d been awake most of the night having my lungs beat to a pulp. So I just kind of put my head back and closed my eyes, but I couldn’t go to sleep because I was still responsible for my child… so I just kind of listened- and I heard MULTIPLE PEOPLE in the same room saying ENTIRE SENTENCES of nos. And then they’d go “Ugh I can’t wait till they learn to listen.”

This goes back to the Walter Barbe quote I talked about two weeks ago. If you keep doing the same thing over and over and your child isn’t getting the message- it’s not the child whose the slow learner! We’ve boiled the ENTIRE English language down into this one single syllable word that doesn’t mean what we’re using it for!

Compare saying to no: “Stop. That hurts.”

“Stop. Look at what you’re doing.”

“Stop. That’s fragile.”

“Stop. Wait for me.”

“Stop. That goes in the garbage.”

“Stop. Be gentle.”

See how many MORE words your child is exposed to that have REAL MEANING- and ONE meaning- than just barking out and repurposing the word no for everything we don’t want them to do?! See how you tend to tell them what TO DO after telling them to stop?

Another argument I hear often is “Well, they can’t talk so I’m using a few words as possible so that they’ll understand.” OKay… but children’s receptive language develops WAY before their expressive language- generally there’s about a year gap between what they can understand and what they can say. That means a 1-year-old can understand what a 2-year-old can. And a 2-year-old can understand what a 3-year-old can – and if you’ve spent any time around a typically developing 3-year-old recently, that’s quite a bit of stuff. So there’s really no reason to be barking out one-word one-syllable commands at them. “Stop, be gentle” is a sentence I’d say most typical 2-year-olds can say. So it’s absolutely something a typical 1-year-old can understand.

So I’m not saying don’t put any limits or boundaries on your kids and let them run wild doing whatever they want. I literally just want you to remove the word NO from your vocabulary and try using some richer, grammatically correct language with your kids. And see what kind of difference it makes. This is one of those little tweaks- like using declarative language- that can make a HUGE difference, and it’s such a small change. So if you’re getting frustrated by your children not listening when you say no- stop saying it.

If you need some help figuring out WHAT to say instead- I have this great script pack that I developed last year that gives you 10 scripts to say to address what the members of my Facebook group- the Parenting Posse– told me where the 10 most frustrating behaviors. They’re 100% free- so you’ve got nothing to lose- go grab them- the link is

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

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