How to Say “No” Without Saying “No”


It is often difficult for younger children to accept the word “no.” Older individuals with developmental or emotional disabilities may also have difficulty accepting the word “no.” The word ”no” often leads to temper tantrums, arguing, and/or pleading.

When your three-year-old daughter old asks you for more candy after she already had a piece and you say “no” she may cry, scream, or beg.

When your seven-year-old son asks you to buy him a toy at the store and you say “no” he may plead with you over and over in the hopes that you will eventually give in.

I am going to show you how to use empathetic statements , explanations, choices, and reminders to say “no”, without using the word no.

People often have a hard time giving up the word “no” because they feel children need to accept it without argument since this will be expected in the “real world” when they grow up. This is an unrealistic expectation on the part of the adult. Young children or children with developmental or emotional disabilities often have a hard time seeing past the word “no” and thinking of alternatives to meet their needs. This is why they beg and plead. They get stuck on the fact that they can’t have something without seeing the whole picture.

When you apply the empathetic statement , explanation, choice, reminder approach, you generally get a child who accepts your answer without arguing, tantruming, or begging.

People often say that parents who don’t say “no” end up with spoiled kids. This can be true if you give your kids whatever they want, but using this “saying no without saying no” approach allows the parent or teacher to remain in control while helping the child feel respected and understood. It also helps the child visualize other scenarios than the one she is hoping for, which will lead to the ability to better accept “no” as she gets older.

Let’s look at a clear example:

So your three-year-old asks for more candy after you have already told her she can only have one piece a day.  She already had her piece of candy for the day but comes to you asking for more.

Here is how you can say “no” without saying “no”.

  1. Empathetic Statement – “I understand you want more candy because it tastes so good.” (this makes her feel understood).
  2. Explanation – “But it is important for our bodies, to eat healthy, so we can only have one piece a day.” (reiterating the rule)
  3. Choice  -“If you are hungry, you can have an apple or yogurt .”(making her feel valuable)
  4. Reminder  -“ You can have a piece of candy again tomorrow” (reminding her that she will enjoy some candy again soon).

It is important to tell the child what is expected “It is good for our bodies to eat healthy, so we can only have one piece of candy a day” rather than what is not expected “you can’t have candy because it is bad for you.” This type of negative phrasing leaves more room for arguing or talking back.

This approach may sound like a lot of work compared to just saying one word “no” but it saves a lot of time because children who get this type of response are much less likely to argue, cry, or have a tantrum. If they do argue with your response, you can simply say, “I’ve already given you your choices” and not engage in discussion about it anymore.

Think of how you can use this approach in different scenarios at home or in the classroom. Language may need to be shortened or modified for very young children or children who have language based difficulties. Some children may benefit from seeing their choices (e.g., show them the apple and yogurt when you give the choice). Very young children or children who have language based difficulties, may have trouble visualizing the choices.

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For more tips on learning and behavior visit the Learning/Behavior Strategies section of Wise Education and Behavior. We share new tips on learning or behavior every week. Check out our articles on behavior, reading, math, writing, general learning, and educational products.

Thank you for reading!


2 thoughts on “How to Say “No” Without Saying “No”

  1. Pingback: How to Prevent and Handle Temper Tantrums | Wise Education and Behavior

  2. Pingback: How to Praise Your Kids | Wise Education and Behavior

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