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How and why to use ‘no’ less often

NO. How often do you use this word? If you were told no numerous times each day, would you listen to every single one of them? Would you feel trusted and respected? I’m sure you’d switch off and just want to try things your way! Children are no different and need to be treated like the learners they are.

Sadly I have witnessed children being told, ‘no sitting on the side of the paddling pool’ when they were getting in and out, despite the fact that they were not tall enough to step over the side and had no alternative but to rest on the edge whilst they swung a leg over. I have also witnessed children being told ‘no splashing’ in the paddling pool, yet isn’t this the one place where they can splash to their hearts content, experiment without fear of being told to keep the water in the bath and off the ceiling? I feel this needs to be addressed and some of my thoughts passed on to educate others.

Many years ago the ‘no police’ emerged to say that we (as practitioners) were not to use the word no and to find alternatives. Believe me, at the time I thought they were crazy!! However, it forced me to change my practice, which did take some time. As you can imagine, ‘no’ rolls off the tongue incredibly easy, especially when a child is doing something inappropriate or dangerous.

‘No’ is dealt out for everything you see unfit, but do you really need to use it? Why are you telling him no? Ask yourself the following –

  • Is the child and everyone around him safe?
  • Is he going to hurt himself or others?
  • Why are you telling him no – for your benefit (maybe they’re making lots of mess and you know you’ll have to tidy it up later) or their benefit?
  • Does it really matter if they do it?
  • Could they learn from it?
  • Could you turn it into a learning opportunity by pointing out possible mishaps and encourage them to problem solve?
  • If you’re telling him no for your benefit, then you really need to take a step back and reflect on what is important.

It is amazing that if you stop yourself from saying no, take a moment to reflect on whether you REALLY need to stop him and why, how much less you will use no. Show children you trust them, ensure you have consistent rules and boundaries in place, keep them safe but allow them to take safe risks, explore, discover, problem solve and learn from their mistakes. Also, allow children to have FUN! Was your childhood happy and were you allowed to experiment, use trial and error and build your characteristics of effective learning? This is what we need to do for our children, not stop them from every little thing, telling them no.

My practice has evolved over the years and when I became a mum, I realised that I wanted my child to understand no. I gave it a powerful meaning as I used it when he was attempting something dangerous (touching plug sockets, about to throw himself off the bed etc, or when touching something I did not want him touching like the television and the television box etc). If he did something I did not want him to do but he was safe and wouldn’t cause injury or break something, I’d use an alternative phrase rather than use no. That way, I could use no when it mattered and knew that he would stop what he was doing and be safe. Too often children ignore no which is not helpful when they’re about to walk into the road.

What else can be used instead of no? was a question I asked myself many times, and I still reflect on this now. The answer is, there are many alternatives like, ‘could you kick the ball into a space instead of towards the other children please’ and ‘let’s read a book together instead of ….’. There are too many to list so here’s what I remind myself of (and encourage others to do also)….

….tell the child what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do.

This creates a more positive atmosphere, helps the child understand why they cannot do something, and provides many learning opportunities. Children need to be clear why something may be dangerous or damaging so tell them. But offer the positive alternative e.g. instead of ‘no splashing’, ask the splashers to ‘be mindful of the other children who do not want to be splashed’ and explain this if need be.

Or, the children who do not want to be splashed could be asked to vacate the pool for a little while whilst the others splash, then those children can leave and the other children invited back in where they can play without being splashed. Allow children some freedom and choice rather than trying to please everyone all at once, which will not work. There needs to be fun for everyone.

Hopefully this blog has made you reflect on how many times you use no. Listen to yourself, what you say and how you say it. Are you using a lot of no’s? Could you use less and allow your child some independence? Could you create a more positive culture? Please do not use tell children no if all they are doing is learning. Keep it for the moments when a child must be stopped. The example given at the beginning of this blog is a true indicator of how much no is thrown about without good reason. Ensure you have a valid reason and see the difference it makes to the children and your practice.

If you would like individual help with this or any other issue, please get in touch with me.

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