Refusing a Child Doesn’t Mean to Hurt

It is very important to properly build communication with the child: you set the boundaries, but at the same time you say that you respect the child’s feelings. How can you say no without refusing?

How to say “no” to a child?

Words have power and strength. One can say the same thing in ten different ways with different results. All parents know that small kids do not like the word “no”. How can you refuse them without starting a scandal? Here are some ways to get out of a conflict situation and show the children that you respect their feelings. In general, instead of telling the child what he/she should not do, tell what he/she needs to do.

  • INSTEAD OF: Stop fighting!
  • YOU SAY: Keep your hands to yourself, please.

The first case is an order, that’s the way you want to react to the manifestation of aggression. But a direct ban does not work as well as an indication of how you should behave.


  • INSTEAD OF: Do not say that!
  • YOU SAY: Mind your words, please.

You cannot say such things, but these are emotions. Any thought can be expressed in different words.


  • INSTEAD OF: Stop whining and crying!
  • YOU SAY: Please explain what’s wrong.

Have you ever seen a child, and in general a person who would stop crying after hearing the command: “Stop crying!”? Let the child explain why he/she is crying. Thus the kid will learn to describe emotions and analyze them.

  • INSTEAD OF: I cannot hear you
  • YOU SAY: Could you speak louder/clearer?

“I cannot hear you” sounds like “I do not want to hear you”. It is better to let the child understand what he/she needs to do to be heard.


  • INSTEAD OF: I will not buy this for you.
  • YOU SAY: Let’s do something instead… (take a walk, watch cats, jump etc.)

Refusing to buy something is always a frustration that one has to learn to cope with, but everything comes with age and experience. You also get frustrated when you cannot buy yourself a new beautiful dress or phone, right? Do not concentrate on what the child does not get, switch their attention to something positive. Yes, we are not buying this strange pink candy.


  • INSTEAD OF: Don’t be upset!
  • YOU SAY: I understand that you are upset, but…

Again, imagine yourself in the child’s shoes. You don’t like the phrase “Do not be upset!” Can it help you? No, never. When you are upset, you want to be sympathized with and understood. So does your kid. Let the child know that his/her feelings are important and remind him/her of something joyous. For example, that the child is going to ride a bike tomorrow.

How to say “no” to a child?

Child using a gadget

  • INSTEAD OF: This is not for you.
  • YOU SAY: This is for Alex, but I can offer you something instead.

“This is not for you” is an unmotivated refusal, almost like “you’re not good enough.” Explain that this is intended for someone else and suggest a replacement. A replacement may even be better!


  • INSTEAD OF: We cannot play now.
  • YOU SAY: Let’s play later, after we finish cleaning (studying, eating)

Children always want to play, it’s normal and healthy, but sometimes you need to do other things. Again, do not use a negative phrase and suggest playing later. This is a delay rather than a refusal.

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