Teacher, coach, international speaker and author Renee Lighton unpacks positive parenting techniques to help your child understand – and respect – the boundaries you set for them.
A historical UCLA study claims that the average child hears “no” up to 400 times per day. If you had to hear a word so many times in a day, wouldn’t you also become deaf to it? It’s no surprise then that “no” is an ineffectual word for everything other than setting off tantrums. So why do we use “no”?
Saying what parents really mean
A group of parents attending a Positive Parenting workshop was asked why they choose and used the word “no”. Their responses included, “I use no to”:
- keep my child safe
- set a clear boundary
- get my child to do what I want
- get my child to stop a particular behaviour I don’t like
- make my life easier
- The word just comes naturally!
- And last but not least, “I don’t know how to use any other word or words to get the result I want!”
As parents we have the opportunity to shift from “no” to knowing. “No” only says no! It doesn’t inform your child as to what is appropriate, what you as a parent need, value, want and expect to see your child do, say and be!
As a parent, it is wise to start with your own ABC:
- A = your awareness of what qualities, behaviours, thinking and being you want to develop, ignite, stimulate, invite and support in your child.
- B = your belief that as a parent you are your child’s first and best teacher. What you think, say and do, shapes your child’s thinking, words and actions.
- C = your level of commitment to being the best parent you can be. What are you doing in order to be the best parent you can be? What support do you have? What are you reading to shape your parenting? What courses are you attending?
5 Steps to the ABCs of parenting without “no”
There are five steps you can follow to support your ABCs and reduce the number of times you use the word “no” while your child grows in their knowing.
1. Think it
Only you can decide what’s important for your child, so spend at least two minutes right now thinking about what you need and the qualities and behaviours you wish for your child. Your list for your child may include that your child be happy, curious, independent, kind, caring, courageous, creative, polite, tidy, resilient, self-regulating, emotionally intelligent, clever, a leader, an enthusiastic reader, etc.
Notice that we often spend more time on brushing our teeth, planning our next meal or our next holiday, than on thinking about what we want for our child. But today is an opportunity to shift your priorities!
2. Link it
Know and remind yourself why it’s so important that you shift your focus from “no” to knowing. Your revised self-talk may sound something like this, making the connection between your thinking and how you project it onto your child:
- I like that I am choosing and learning to be a positive parent.
- I like that I am in action of setting my child up for success in life.
- I like that I am getting better at this parenting game. I can have fun doing this!
- I see how the qualities and behaviours I am thinking about will make a difference to me, my child, our family and the community.
- I can do this!
- I see the big picture of what I want for my child.
3. Ink it
Write down your thoughts and share them with your spouse or partner and your primary caregivers so that everyone understands your approach to parenting. When we are all on the same page of knowing and focusing on what we wish for our child, we are clear about the way we communicate and we support one another. The child receives clear and consistent messages.
4. Do it
Practise, practise, practise! Share your needs, boundaries and values with your child in positive and affirming ways, many times and in many ways, and always notice the good stuff! For example:
- “I like the way you said hello to Aunty Bev. You are very polite. Thank you, Amy!”
- “I saw you sharing your black bike with Tom. You are kind. Thank you, Peter.”
- “I needed quiet time while I spoke to Granny on the telephone. Thank you for playing quietly. You know when and how to use an inside voice.”
- “You are patient. You waited for your turn to speak. Thank you.”
- “I like a tidy room. Thank you for packing away your cars. You are neat and a good helper, Kate.”
- “You shared your toys with Robyn. Thank you for being kind and caring.”
- “You know that couches are for sitting on. Thank you for sitting so nicely.”
- “I see you like drawing. We have paper for drawing. Would you like to sit at this table or at your own table when you draw?”
- “I see you like biting. We have fruit for biting and eating. Would you like to bite an apple or a carrot?”
What you want is not a negotiation, so it’s wise to offer your child choices without opening the door to negotiating. For example, you need a tidy room, so your dialogue could be, “Would you like to pack away the wooden blocks or the cars?” You want to encourage independence. You ask, “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the yellow shirt today?”
Make a list of the times you use “no” the most. Write down ways to get the same result without saying “no” and instead using a positive statement. For example:
- “No shouting in the kitchen!” can shift to, “I like it when you use an inside voice in the kitchen” or, “I need a quiet voice now” or, “In our home, we use inside voices inside the house and outside voices in the garden.”
- “No running into the road!” can shift to, “Roads and cars can be dangerous. I always need you to stay next to me.”
- “No whining!” can shift to, “Tell me what you want so that I can understand you. Speak slowly and clearly.”
- “No, don’t touch the knives!” can shift to, “Stop! Knives are for cutting. They can cut you.”
- “No jumping on the bed!” can shift to, “Beds are for sleeping. Do you want to jump outside on the grass or from the bottom step?”
- “Oh no! There is water all over the bathroom floor. I told you a million times not to splash!” can shift to, “Water stays in the bath! A wet floor can be slippery. Are you going to use this cloth or that towel to dry it? ”
You can also share your needs with your child in the form of a list and communicate it as follows.
In our home we:
- speak kindly
- look at and listen to the person who is speaking
- wait for our turn to speak
- ask in a clear voice when we need something
- eat at the dinner table
- have fun tidying up our toys
- read books
- draw on paper
- keep the bath water in the bath
- sit on couches
- sleep in our beds
Invite your child to contribute to the list. Take photographs of your child doing what you want to see and put them in places for all to see. Use their photographs to reinforce morning, dressing, eating and bedtime routines, etc.
How you shape your child’s behaviour all depends on your language and the words you use will set you and your child up for success. It may not flow easily at first, but persistence and consistence with your ABC will get you there – away from “no” and towards knowing.
5. Review it
Take a moment to review what’s working with this new strategy. Celebrate the successes, then think about what you can do even better and focus on that area.
If you feel like you’re hitting a brick wall, remember that if you as a parent aren’t going to help your child, then who will gift them with the lifelong thinking, saying, and doing skills that make a difference? I know you can, now will you?