Alternatives to No

I believe children are better able to grow and flourish when they are in a positive, “yes” environment in which they can safely explore. Yet, often, as parents, we end up using the word “no” to guide our children’s behavior, far more often than we may want to, which can lead to a negative environment where children are prohibited from exploring and growing to their full potential.

Using the word no is easy and can become habitual – a knee-jerk response, and it also can quickly become a toddler’s favorite word, and/or the word least paid attention to by your children. This, in turn, leaves parents feeling ignored and children feeling stymied. Yet, children do need limits, and as parents, it’s our duty to keep them safe.

So what do you do when you want to keep your child away from something dangerous/fragile/breakable or need stop an undesirable behavior . . . but you don’t want to say no?

Here are some alternatives to using the word No

  • Keep baby-unfriendly items out of reach and/or locked away until baby is able to carefully handle them, while keeping a few safer “adult” items out for baby to explore with you.
  • Redirect the “no” behavior. If baby keeps going for the extension cord, and you keep saying no, and she keeps going for it, instead, get down on the floor with her, and redirect her with another intruiging (yet safer) object.
  • Use the words “We don’t” and describe the undesirable behavior. For example, “We don’t throw balls in the house.” instead of just No! and taking the ball away.
  • Go one step further and give a “We do…” alternative. For example, “We don’t throw balls in the house. But we do throw trash in the garbage can – here, you try!”
  • Use an alternate word like STOP! to keep a toddler from running into a dangerous situation or HOT! to keep toddler from reaching up to the stove. Stop and Hot actually give more specific, yet, quick instruction as opposed to No, which is more generic, and more likely to be ignored.
  • Practice the Stop! and Go! game with your toddlers in a danger-free zone, like a back yard, where you have the kids run when you say Go! and stop right away when you say Stop.
  • Use a weird word – HALT! or SLAM! or BEEP! or BOOGER! The word itself matters less than the tone of your voice, which is usually enough to get your baby or toddler to stop what they are doing long enough for you to intervene. Just keep a few surprise words in your back pocket – don’t use them often, only when absolutely necessary to get immediate attention.
  • If you must say no, modify it with an alternative, like, “No, but you CAN (fill in the blank)”. For example, toddler is about to hit the baby, instead of just saying no, say, “No hitting baby, but we can hit the drum!”
  • Take a breather. If your child is asking something that you’re tempted to say no to right away, like, “Can I get a pair of shoes like that?” you can say, “Let me think about it”, and then, do think on it. Maybe an alternative solution can be reached when you’ve had some time to think.
  • Offer options as an alternative to no. Instead of, “No, we can’t go to the zoo today” say, “How about we have a picnic in the back yard?” or “I just got a great movie in the mail; would you like to watch it?”
  • Give an informational answer to a question that you might otherwise be tempted to answer with a no. Like, “Can I have a snack?” could be answered with, “Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes.”
  • Rephrase No to Yes. Instead of, “No, we can’t go bike riding right now because I have a lot of work to do”, try, “Yes, as soon as I finish my work. I should be ready to go in a half an hour.”
  • Have a Yes day (or hour, or minute)! Allow yourself to answer all of your child’s requests for an allotted period of time with a positive answer, instead of a negative one. Certainly, if the request is, “Can I poke the baby with a pencil?” you’ve got to draw the line there (maybe with a fun redirection or “No, but you CAN” statement), but if the request is, “Can I play with your phone?” or “Can I pour the juice myself?” or “Can I wear flip flops with socks?”, try saying Yes, (and offering assistance if needed) instead of immediately saying no. I’ve found behavior turns around quickly and no’s are more quickly responded to, when more yeses are used on a daily basis.

Do you have any other alternatives to saying No? Please share them in the comments.


Kelly, Author of

Kelly is an advocate for peaceful parenting. She blogs at

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