5 Alternatives to Saying “No”



How often do we say it in a day? How often do we say it to our toddlers, only to have them smile or laugh and repeat the action that caused the “no” in the first place? Fun, right?

As our babies grow and gain their independence, they’re going to “get into mischief,” as my 2-year-old nephew calls it. With every crawl or step, they are closer to mobility and, in some cases, danger.

For most children under the age of 3, no can still be an abstract concept. They don’t understand it the way adults do. If we find ourselves constantly saying “no” to our babes, the word can lose its effectiveness. We’re left in a hopeless tug-of-war. 

With the obvious exception of immediate threat to life or limb, we as parents can ease the transition and foster independence by avoiding overuse of the word “no.”

Here are some alternative approaches:

1. Create a safe space. 

The more we can avoid unsafe environments for our children, the less need we have to say “no” or take things away from them. This tip seems like a no-brainier, but when they start walking, that’s a whole ‘nother ball game. I’ve had to say “goodbye” to some of my favorite pieces of furniture for the sake of the child. This really is why we can’t have nice things!

2. Give specific instruction

Rather than taking something away or removing the child from a situation (unless they’re in imminent danger, of course), explain the desired behavior or demonstrate. For example, if your child stands up in their chair, calmly place them back on their bottom and say “Chairs are for sitting” or “Sit on your bottom, please.” This may take a million times, but patience will pay off.

3. Provide alternatives/redirect.

Instead of saying “no” when your child takes another’s toy (the concept of sharing is also abstract at this age), provide them with their own toy to play with or another distraction. If they’re playing with something inappropriate, replace it with a kid-friendly toy vs. leaving them empty-handed.

Playing nicely…for now!

4. Focus on the “can,” not the “can’t.”

If we involve children in our daily routines and give them choices to make, it encourages their autonomy and provides positive reinforcement. It might take longer to fold the laundry if we let them “help,” but they love to be included!

5. Practice, practice, practice. 

This may seem silly, but avoid using the word “no” in all aspects of your life. After all, we can’t just flip a switch when we’re dealing with our kiddos vs. the rest of the world. We have to actively work on it all the time.

Best of luck, mama. Let me know how it goes. You “no” where to find me.

What strategies have you found that work for your kiddos?


  1. Great choices to optimize learning for kids versus the ultimatum that is the word no. As a pre kg teacher I can say it did work in the classroom, so it can work at home. Being as consistant as possible is the key.


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