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The Alternative to 'No'

Before having kids I, of course, knew all there was to know about how to discipline the small people. Even as I was learning my way through graduate school to become the next great teacher, I scoffed at the idea of "specific correction." I didn't recall this method of correction or compliment from my parents or my teachers, and I turned out pretty well, right? When it was taught to me as a suggested way of student management, it was one of those things I tucked into the back of my mind. Way back.

Thank goodness I was able to drag out this nugget of teacher learning when I discovered my toddler didn't understand "no," as it applied to pretty much everything she did. If she crawled away to the dog's bed, she heard, "No!" When she found a crayon and took it to the wall, she heard, "No!" As she pointed to something blue when I asked her to point to something red, she heard,"No."

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All of those utterances of "no" from me and any other caretakers came to mean the same thing to her: You're doing something wrong. But what specifically was she doing wrong?

As she crawled toward the dog's bed, was she crawling incorrectly? Did her toddler mind understand that the dog's bed was a place to stay away from, or that the way she was crawling was wrong? With crayons in hand and hearing "no," did she know that coloring on the wall was unacceptable or that everything related to the crayon was bad? And even more profound, when she heard "no" as she pointed to the incorrect color, could she comprehend that it was the incorrect color, or did she think that she wasn't supposed to participate in the first place?

When you say "no" to a child, or even to an adult, what results are you expecting?

The word "no" is a powerful word for anyone who uses it. Naturally, it most often has a negative connotation, as its definition implies. But "no" has no specific direction when it's used out of context. When you say "no" to a child, or even to an adult, what results are you expecting?

Imagine you're at a picnic with friends and family when your toddler grabs a drink off a table, and in a flash gets away from you. She starts making her way toward a street where cars are present, and you yell, "No!" Your daughter probably understands that she shouldn't have grabbed the drink that wasn't hers, so her first instinct is to drop the drink and keep walking. In those few seconds, she doesn't know that your intention is to have her stop walking—she simply knows that her wrongdoing was corrected by dropping the drink.

By saying "stop" rather than "no," your child has an immediate realization that she should stop whatever she's doing, which in this case, is walking toward a busy road. By saying "hands off" instead of "no" when your son starts touching knobs on a TV, he's receiving an instruction instead of a blanket admonition he's heard time and time again. When you say "sit" rather than "no" when your daughter stands on her chair at the dinner table, she understands what you expect of her. When you say "pet with soft hands" instead of "no" as your son grabs a dog's fur, he'll better understand that he's allowed to touch the dog, just to do so gently.

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"No" is not a bad word. But when you use it out of context as a form of correction with a young child, the child can be easily confused when making the split-second decision as to your meaning of the word. Be specific in your corrective language, and your children will better apply the direction you've given.

Do you say "no" to your kids?

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