The power of (not using) the word “no”.

I’ve known parents to adhere to a strict rule of *never* using the word “no”. I’ve known parents to *always* use the word; it’s their go-to. For me, I use a little bit of both of these ideas and *damn*, does my baby ever listen and that’s something I am definitely not ashamed to brag about!

Disclaimer!! – Let me start by saying this: I am no parenting expert and what works for me, may or may not work for you and your baby – every child is different! So take this with a grain of salt.

When Norah started to become more mobile, she would – for example – crawl her way over to the cat’s water bowl and stick her hand in, or she would grab onto the dog’s fur and pull or hit out of excitement, or she would try to take things out of the bathroom trash (yuck!)… all completely normal and curious things, but things that needed correcting all the same.

So, from very early on, before she knew what any of it meant, I would avoid the word “no”. I did it intentionally and of course I slipped up sometimes, but by avoiding the word, I was able to correct her in other ways…

  • When she would play with the cat’s water, instead of no, it became “that’s only for the kitty cat,” and I would move her to a different area;
  • When she would pull on the dog, instead of no, I would show her how to pet by guiding her hand and continuously repeating the word “gentle”;
  • The bathroom trash became “oh, how about this instead – that’s trash, it’s yucky”, and I would present her with something new to play with.

The beauty in this is that I didn’t always have to say “no” and feel like I was constantly disciplining her; instead, it felt like I was *teaching* her! And to my surprise, I *was* teaching her!! Now, at her ripe age of 16 months, she responds to the word “gentle” in many different scenarios – if she’s interested in someone’s hair while they’re holding her, I will remind her to be gentle and, while it’s a little strange to have a one-year-old pet you, it’s way better than the alternative of hair pulling, right??

Here are just a handful of the words that I’ve used as alternatives to “no”…

  1. Gentle (for poking, pulling, hitting, grabbing, etc. with people, animals, and even plants!)
  2. Hot (for hot food, the stove/oven, etc.)
  3. Danger (really important! For electrical outlets, the stove/oven, the road, etc.)
  4. Step (reminds her to look where she’s walking when she’s getting close to stairs or a drop in the sidewalk, etc.)
  5. Not for babies (when she picks up/plays with items that are not intended for children that could break/be dangerous/that I simply don’t want her playing with)

Of course, this is a lot of instruction for a curious baby, so it does take practice and consistency and lots of redirection, but when they get it, I truly believe the variation of words helps her to listen more and better! If your child constantly hears “no” (or any word for that matter), it will eventually become white noise.

Now here is where “no” *does* come in handy. Because I’ve worked so hard to avoid the word by replacing it and redirecting her actions, the word “no” holds an immense amount of power. When I do use it, she *knows* what it means, she *knows* to stop what she’s doing. The power it holds does mean that using it sometimes results in tears, but I wouldn’t change that, because I’ve seen it work in scenarios that very well may have saved her life.

If she is walking or running towards the street because that’s where her toy rolled and I’m not going to get to her in time to correct, you better believe that’s a situation that I’m loudly and forcefully using “no” instead of “danger”! When I do this, because she knows what it means but doesn’t hear it often, you can practically hear her shoes skid on the concrete as she comes to a sudden halt.

It has also worked at times where I wasn’t able to reach her for redirection before she got to an open outlet and she reached to touch it. “No!” resulted in an audible slapping sound from her hand meeting her thigh because she brought it down so fast from the wall. And don’t forget, when you do use “no” in these situations, it’s still imperative in my experience to correct or redirect behavior after the incident just like you would with any of the other words.

I am definitely not in the party that thinks “no” is a *bad* word – use it!! Just work to use it to your advantage, and not just because it’s the easiest way to convey what you want from your toddler. It’s hard work and something I have to remind myself of doing every. day. But it’s worth it and once that foundation is set… smooth sailing and an easier toddler (if that exists…)!


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