Alternative ways to say "no" to your child without triggering a meltdown or tantrum

Saying “No” without a Meltdown

May 14, 2021

As a parent or caregiver, you probably find yourself saying “No” more times in a single day (hour?) than you ever could have imagined. You don’t want to be the bad guy and your kiddo really doesn’t react well to hearing the word. In fact, some experts believe that saying “No” too frequently can desensitize your child to hearing it, making the word ineffectual when it’s really important.

Instead of triggering a meltdown over something minor, let’s save “No” for when it matters – “No, don’t hit your sibling.” “No, don’t touch the hot stove.” For those day to day (really moment to moment) requests, we’d like to offer a few alternative options that may just also help keep the peace while improving behavior.

How to Say “No” to a Child without Using the Word or Causing a Tantrum 

As adults, we use language a bit more casually than our children (especially children with Autism or other special needs) process it. We use the word “No” in a variety of contexts, and in each case, we’re usually saying something more than just “No.” Let’s look at a few ways we use the word and a few alternatives that might go over a bit better with children.

“No, not right now.” But what we’re actually saying is “Maybe later.” Any parent with a young child knows that “Maybe later,” doesn’t go over much better than “No,” so be specific. “Yes, after you put away your toys, you may watch TV.”

“No, don’t do that!” This is a great opportunity to give alternatives. Instead of “No, don’t jump on the couch,” try “You may play with your toys on the couch or go outside to jump.” Or, give a straightforward direction, “Please go outside to jump and run.”

“No, I don’t think so. That’s not a good idea.” As adults, we totally understand this sentence. For kids, it sounds like there’s some room to negotiate. And maybe this is a perfect opportunity to develop some problem-solving skills. Instead of the above, give your child a chance to propose a solution. “I need to clean up after dinner and you want to go play together, can you come up with a solution that works for us both?”

Saying what we really mean (beyond “No”) takes practice. It’s a tough skill to master, but it can save a meltdown or two and help keep you and your child’s day on the rails. As Innovative Behavior Options, our goal is to increase adaptive skills and decrease potential maladaptive behaviors. To learn about our approach to ABA therapy, give us a call at 770-250-0093 or check out our website.


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