7 phrases to try instead of saying 'no'

When you have the impulse to say no, see if you can find words that accomplish these goals instead.

7 phrases to try instead of saying 'no'

We have a small challenge for you: count the number of times you say "no" on a given day. Your baby pulls the cat's fur, your toddler throws a ball at her brother, your child whines for a cookie before dinner—the temptation to say no is almost irresistible. It rolls off the tongue. It feels like the easiest way to get your point across.

But what if there was an even better way to communicate your message? What if you could choose words that connect you to your kids and make you feel more confident and effective? You can, mama.


When you have the impulse to say no, see if you can find words that accomplish these goals instead.

1. Connect with what your child is feeling or trying to do.

The biggest reason to pick a more thoughtful response is that "no" skips a powerful step in human interactions, attuning. Attuning means letting the other person know you understand.

Instead of no, we should send the message, "I get you. I see what you're trying to do. I'm going to set and hold a limit, but I do understand where you're coming from."

Take a break from: "No, don't hit me!"

Instead try: "You were really upset and you hit me (say this while blocking little hands from hitting you again). I can see how frustrated you are, but it's not okay to hit people because it hurts You could tell Try telling me with your words how you feel."

2. Use words with information.

"No," tells kids what not to do, rather than what to do. There isn't much information in a no to helping the child move forward in a more productive way. It doesn't guide the child to better choices.

Take a break from: "No, we don't do that."

Instead try: "At the table, we always sit on our bottoms or our knees. And we park all our toys and electronics. Mommy's going to put her phone away while you park that train set somewhere safe."

3. Explain why.

Kids value reasoning just as much as adults do, and "no" is lacking in explanation. Explaining why helps kids learn to make better choices in the future.

Take a break from: "No, don't touch that."

Instead try: "That isn't a toy, so we will leave it on the shelf. It's delicate and it could break if we touch or play with it."

4. Keep communication open.

No matter what age you are, when someone sternly says "no," your reaction will be to either shut down or push back harder and rebel. Both reactions lead to power struggles and resentment, rather than opening a conversation for learning and guiding.

Take a break from: "No, we don't say that to people."

Instead try: "You wanted space, I can see that. You shoved your friend and he fell down. What could you have said instead? Let's check in and see if he's okay."

5. Vary your words and be specific to the moment.

Kids tend to ignore "no" when they hear it repeatedly. It becomes like background noise. They also start to say "no" to parents, siblings, and friends when they hear it all the time.

Take a break from: "No, don't eat dessert before dinner."

Instead try: "We'll have carrots now and a cookie after dinner so your tummy has room."

6. Keep the tone neutral and non-judgmental.

If we say "no" to babies and young children in a harsh, reprimanding way, over time they get repeated messages that they've done something bad, or even that they themselves are bad.

Instead, we can give them the message that we understand them, believe they have good intentions and are trying to figure out the world.

We're not suggesting permissiveness. You can still be clear and hold limits without a lot of no's. Unless someone is in immediate danger (a toddler is about to hit a friend or touch something unsafe), first attune. If you start this way, the next words out of your mouth will naturally have more information. Your child won't feel defensive, so it's easier for her to hear you. For example,

Take a break from: "No, don't do that!"

Instead try: "Seems fun to throw the ball in here, huh? I get it. We can only roll balls in the house so we don't break anything" or "My glasses look interesting to you, don't they? But my glasses are not a toy. They're for daddy only."

7. Say that it's not okay, but in a new way.

Kids' brains are programmed to experiment and test. Lots of little ones keep going back to these forbidden things and, all the while, parents get louder and sterner in an attempt to get through to them.

It's not the child being "bad," it's her mind consumed with the never-ending task of figuring out the world. If immediate safety is the issue, do what you need to to keep everyone safe first.

Take a break from: "No!!"

Instead try: "Stop!" or "Freeze!"

The idea of replacing "no" is to work towards our greater goals as parents. Instead of escalating, let your child know you understand why she's persisting. When you do this, she'll be much more open to learning the rules and understanding what you're trying to teach—she'll be more likely to make good choices, even when no one is watching.

Be kind to yourself and don't worry if you sometimes say "no, " mama. For many parents, the word is a reflex. You heard it growing up, or absorbed it as the standard way to get kids to know right from wrong. It takes conscious practice to change.

When you feel a "no" coming on, replace it with information. You may still need to hold a limit repeatedly, remove the glasses yourself, or take the ball and put it up high. But the underlying message is, "I understand you and I'm here to support and guide."

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Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.

And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3


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"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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