NO, NO, NO – Learning NO!


By David Joel Miller.

Saying No.

Despite its short size the word NO is one of the most difficult words in the English language to understand. Ask any school teacher and they would swear that most of their students had never heard the word before. Parents spend the first couple of years of their child’s life trying to teach the child the meaning of the word NO. Then they spend the next few decades wishing they had never taught the child that word. Aside from the obvious benefit of stopping a child’s unwanted behavior, are there any reasons a parent should ever teach their child NO? If they should teach the child this word, are there any rules to stop the child from practicing this new word on their parents?

Some parents avoid using the word – NO, altogether. This word is taboo in their house. You can spot their children in any mall in America. They seem to have heard that we are not supposed to say the “N” word anymore. Do you think people are getting confused by this? Some people seem to have no problem teaching their children the other N word but they forget to teach them NO. There is nothing worse than an adult with a limited vocabulary. Make sure NO is in your child’s lexicon.

Parents be forewarned – you have to say NO to your child so they can say NO also. Parents don’t often like it when kids say NO to things the parents have told them to do. We expect them to say NO to negative things like drugs and dangerous friends later on in life. So yes, they need to know the NO word, and what it means. Please, parents, don’t leave this task to the child’s teacher. By then your child is in trouble, and they probably will find it much harder to learn NO in a jail cell than in your home.

So teach them the No word. But don’t stop there. They will need to practice using this word. At first, they will get this vocabulary lesson wrong. They will think the NO word means the parent shouldn’t do something or that they don’t have to do what parents said. Encourage them to say NO to themselves. “No, I shouldn’t do that.” Learning to say NO to themselves helps them establish self-control.  But learning NO won’t be enough.

You also need to teach your child YES. If everything they ask for or say is greeted with a NO they become negative people or worse yet they start ignoring you when you say NO. No is meaningless without YES. Just for the record very young kids develop parental deafness if you say NO too often. So expand the vocabulary lesson. Try “don’t do that,” “that is dangerous,” “stop” and other synonyms. And try other languages.

Now by other languages, we are not talking German or French, but you could try that if you want. Most parents, mothers, in particular, use nonverbal language. In mommy speak this is called “the look.” You can also communicate the same message using “the voice.” Rather than yelling ever louder, there is a limit to how loud you can go – try talking in a – slow – low tone of voice. Most kids quickly get the idea that “the voice” means they are about to get in deep trouble.

A well-connected child, one who got praised for pleasing their parents would rather get a spanking than “the look” or “the voice.” So much the better, you get your point across and save your hand and the visit from the child protective services folks.

On that subject, some parents substitute spankings for teaching their child the – NO word. This is not a good idea. What you teach your child is not the word and the idea of “NO” but the idea of “to get what you want hit.” A teenager can hit really hard, as parents who have mistakenly thought that hitting could change behavior have learned. Teach them the “NO” word.  It is less painful all around.

One caution about saying “NO,” too often or too loudly. This word is like a flashlight; use it a little and it sheds some light on the subject, leave it in use too long and it stops working. Use NO only when it is really needed and use substitutes often. Other options with young children are “it will make you sick” or “you will poke your eye out.”

Some behavior books like Sears and Sears in The Discipline Book relate all this teaching of NO to very young children. You would think that it would be harder to teach it to young kids and it should get easier as they get older. That would be so wrong. For some reason two and three-year-olds pick up the word NO quickly. By thirteen most kids have lost the ability to learn that word altogether. So start young but don’t give up. With older kids you may need some other techniques to convince them NO means NO. Teenage girls especially need to learn this, otherwise, how will they be able to teach it to their boyfriends?

So here is hoping that your child will be a vocabulary expert, knowing and using the word “NO” and all its synonyms correctly. More to come on changing kid’s behavior, resiliency, and recovery.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog, there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.

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2 thoughts on “NO, NO, NO – Learning NO!

  1. Pingback: Changing Others by Influencing | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: Can therapy help if the problem is someone else? | counselorssoapbox

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