Saying no can be so hard! You want to see them happy and you hurt when they are hurt. But, it’s important for your children to learn about limits.


7 tips: saying no and setting up limits

1. Keep in mind that the big picture is the most important

2. Manipulation is not an option.

3. Change of focus

4. Use your body language and learn to give “the look”

5. Make it fun

6. Work on your tone to of voice

7. Negotiate

child crying after hearing "no"

1. Keep in mind that the big picture is the most important

Discipline means “to teach”, what do you want to teach your children in this moment? This is a lesson that needs to be learned. Setting limits teaches children that you are in charge and you are not afraid of any of the big feelings that a “no” may elicit. Don’t give a “yes” only because it’s easier.

child saying no to father

2. Manipulation is not an option

When you say “no”, be prepared to hear “I hate you!” or “Why are you always so mean?”. Every parent has heard these words. It’s a temporary state.

child running in the backyard

3. Change of focus

If you are running around the house,  noticing that your impulsive toddler is driving you insane by jumping from the couch to the bed, from the bed to the floor and all you say is “no” and “stop”; change the environment. Take your child outside, sometimes he – and you – need a change of venue.

woman looking mad with arms crossed

4. Use your body language and learn to give “the look”

Set “stop” signs by not saying anything at all. Your face can tell it all when you are getting to your limit. Let your children realize that. Show that your approval looks and gestures (as hugs, kisses and cuddles) are much different than when you are unhappy.  Give them “the look”. Communicate through your eyes that you know that they know better. Say no without saying no. Don’t be too harsh. They need to understand that you love them and approve on them, but you are not approving that specific behavior.

mother and father having fun with kids - say no in a funny way

5. Make it fun

Create alternatives for your “no”s. Like saying things in a funny voice “you know mommy doesn’t like when you act like a rude dude.”

mother saying no with her hands

6. Work on your tone to of voice – so they know you really mean it.

Some parents have a specific phrase or noise that they make which means “you’re near the line, better not cross!”, you can say “uh, uh, uh!” – with an escalation in the volume with each uh!. Save your “no”s and “stops” for most important issues, such as safe issues.

mother and daughter talking lying on the floor

7. Instead of just saying “no”, negotiate

Negotiation is part of life too – and your children need to learn that. Listen to your child’s point of view. Let them know you understand them and encourage them to talk. This can lead to a discussion about the subject. “You can’t have a dog today. But, when you grow up a little, we can discuss this again”. Or “ we can’t get these toys today, but we can add them to your birthday list”. This teaches children to wait and delay gratification, an important developmental task.


Set the limits and stick to them, be consistent and respectful. Keep in mind that your little one is learning about making his own choices and you are there to guide him.

wrote by: Marilee Hartling & Paula Boscardin

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Marilee’s passion is in helping new parents to adjust to the joys and challenges of parenting their infants and toddlers.

Early Childhood Development Associates is located at: 8344 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles | CA | 90069