Alternatives to "No!" (ages 5 to 8)

Alternatives to

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What to expect at this age

Maybe "no" no longer cuts it with your grade-schooler, or maybe you'd just like to take a more positive approach to disciplining him. Luckily, you have plenty of alternatives to this overused command – and for good reason.

"Children often begin to tune it out, and you may find that it takes ten no's to get your child to respond," says Roni Leiderman, associate dean of the Family Center at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Whether you're trying to keep your grade-schooler out of trouble or continuing your efforts to teach him right from wrong, try a better, more effective approach than simply saying "no ."

What to do

Rephrase. Put a positive spin on your request, and your grade-schooler – who really does want to please you – is more likely to respond in kind.

Instead of saying no, clearly state what he can do instead. Rather than barking, "No! Don't throw the ball in the living room," for instance, try "Let's go outside to play ball." If he's in the middle of an art project and is getting glue all over the floor, ask him to put newspaper down under his work. This gives him something to do rather than something to stop doing.

Offer options and explanations. Anyone – but especially a grade-schooler desperately seeking independence and self-control – would rather be given a choice than an order. So instead of issuing a flat-out denial when he begs for a piece of candy before lunch, have him choose between grapes and an apple. Or let him pick which kind of candy he'd like to eat after lunch.

Though he may not be thrilled with the choices you offer him, your grade-schooler will eventually learn to accept them. He's old enough now to understand explanations, too, so tell him why it's important that he eat nourishing food before empty calories.

Make a deal. You can't really pull a fast one on a 5-year-old, but you can often strike a compromise with him. If he sees a huge construction site that he wants to investigate, for instance, don't say "no." Instead, point him toward the cranes and bulldozers down the block, which you can safely view from the park across the street.

Capitalize on your relationship. Most of the time, your grade-schooler aims to please, and she gets a real kick out of sharing secrets with you. So she'll love special codes – hints you can give her instead of no's. Maybe you call her by her initials when you want her to curtail her behavior, or perhaps you lightly tap her on the shoulder. Whatever the code, make sure she's crystal clear on it before you expect her to respond.

Avoid the issue. Whenever you can, keep your grade-schooler out of situations where you'll have to say no. Continue to keep dangerous and valuable items at home out of his reach, and don't put him in situations that are consistently too trying for him.

If he always struggles with visiting playmates over his dinosaur collection, for instance, help him put it away before they arrive. And don't take him to Great-Grandma Jenny's antique-filled home if he has to sit on his hands the whole time he's there. You can't isolate your child from all situations where you'll have to say no, of course, but life will be easier for both of you – and you'll be able to say "yes" more often – if you limit them.

Don't sweat the small stuff. Chances are, your grade-schooler is easier to discipline now than he was a year ago, but you'll still have plenty of opportunities to tell him no. Don't take them all.

If he wants a cheese sandwich instead of a cheese omelet for breakfast, why not? If he insists on wearing purple socks with red shorts, what's the harm? If he's safe and you don't have to say no, let it slide.

Say it like you mean it. Of course, when his behavior does matter, and alternatives to no just won't cut it, don't waffle. Say it firmly (but calmly), with conviction and a poker face – "No. You may not cross a busy street by yourself." An amused "No, no, sweetie" sends your grade-schooler mixed messages and certainly won't discourage him.

When he responds, give him a smile or a hug and follow up with something affirmative – "Thanks. You're very good at listening!"

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