Should you stop saying 'no' to your kids? And if you do, how else can you instil discipline in your children?
Word on the street is that more parents in Singapore are turning to the increasingly popular Dr Dan Siegel (aka Mr “Connect and Redirect”) and Janet Lansbury for a softer approach to discipline. Once children start crawling they begin to think “no!” is their name – and you begin to feel like the nagging Discipline Police. Too many nos can erode a child’s self-confidence and create a distance between you and them. Children also miss an opportunity to learn when they are told a straight up ‘no’.
There’s an alternative to The Big N.O., but it might take patience to put into practice, especially if your voice is already hoarse. In Singapore, our families are lucky to have access to a helping hand, but, unlike parents, helpers may actually be afraid to say “no!” when we need them to. We share some alternative ways to achieve peace at home…
What happens when you tell kids “No!”…
When children hear “no!” too often, it does one of a few things:
1. They could get scared and might eventually withdraw from you
A stern “NO!” can startle a child. It frightens them and makes them fearful of you. A fearful child may not confide in you as they get older.
2. They might feel ashamed and less confident
“No!” can leave a child feeling shameful about their behaviour. “What terrible thing have I done for you to be so angry with me?” Feeling shameful lessens their self-confidence.
3. It could send mixed signals to your kids
“No!” can be confusing. A child twirls around, almost knocking the vase off the table. They’re allowed to twirl around outside, so when you yell out “no!” the message is not consistent in their minds and can leave them confused and frustrated.
4. It loses its meaning when you repeat it too often
Save the word ‘no!’ for dangerous situations. Too many ‘nos’ and the word starts to lose its strength – if your child is in danger (too close to the water’s edge or the road etc) and you really do need to yell out “No!” you need it to be effective.
What you can do instead of saying “no”…
Parents, here are some alternative ways to instil discipline without saying “no”:
1. Create a safe space in your home
Firstly, try to make the house a ‘yes’ space for children. Do what you can to make it as safe and child-friendly as possible with many less ‘nos’ in the day.
2. Connect before you redirect the behaviour
Get down to the child’s eye level, make eye contact and calmly explain, “You are banging on the table.” Children need to know exactly what they are doing. Redirect the behaviour to something else instead: “Can I bring you over here/can you come with me, we’re going to bang on this box instead.” Why redirect them? Play is the way children learn. They may be exploring a sound (or your reaction to the sound!). Find a similar alternative.
3. Acknowledge and appreciate why they are doing what they are doing
You could say, “It’s making a really fun big noise, huh?” Then be very clear about your message: “I don’t want you to bang on the table now. It’s too noisy, your sister is sleeping.” Don’t be angry, be firm and matter-of-fact.
4. Tell them directly
Ask for the behaviour you want – even from a baby. “Please give me my sunglasses.” Don’t grab or snatch. Even if you have to, gently pry them out of a baby’s hands. Children mimic our behaviours.
5. Follow up what you said with actions
Maintain momentum. Act on the consequence quickly. Spending half an hour saying “I’m going to take that ball away from you!” becomes ineffective background noise. Explain consequences, offer choices, be consistent and follow through. If you say you’re going to take away the ball your children are throwing around the house (once you explain why, and offer alternative choices), take the ball away promptly. Remain supportive and unfazed by any subsequent tantrum. Try to be consistent in this message.
What to expect when you change child discipline tactics
There might be a tantrum when you redirect, as there would if you said “NO!” However, the alternative approach teaches children consequences and responsibility for their own behaviour. A win-win situation. Even if your child is too young to understand all your words, they can still feel the connection and the boundaries set.
If the behaviour is an act of defiance then the matter is more complicated. A good start, again, is to connect: “I can see that you’re angry. I won’t let you hit me. I love you, what can I do to help?” When they ruffle our feathers, their own power frightens them. Knowing you are there for them in a cool, calm and loving way is a good start.
Give it a go – it might take time, a bit of zen, and a lot of practice. But it’s worth it.
Top image: August de Richelieu via Pexels