Setting limits is more than just saying no

How do you set limits and address misbehavior in young children without just saying “no” on repeat?

Instead of telling your child “no” on repeat, tell them what they can do.
Instead of telling your child “no” on repeat, tell them what they can do.

“No!” is often the most preferred word for any toddler. It’s a great way for them to assert their blossoming independence, but it’s also a word they hear a lot in their everyday lives. It’s important to set limits for young children and manage their behaviors, but there are other ways to do this that don’t involve the word “no.”

Michigan State University Extension has some ideas for setting limits for children without just saying “no.”

Set your child up for success. Set up a space and routine that give your child lots of opportunities to play and explore without temptation to explore unsafe things or engage in undesired behaviors. For example, if your young child insists on throwing the television remote over and over again, store the remote in a drawer where they can’t access it.

Redirect. Sometimes distraction is the best tool when young children are doing something they should not be doing. Try to get your child engaged in another activity and redirect their attention to something positive. This might require moving your child to another physical space if there are too many temptations you have trouble shifting their attention.

Tell them what they can do. Instead of telling your child “no” on repeat, tell them what they can do. If they try to brush the dog’s fur with their fork instead of eating with it, help them practice scooping or grabbing food with their fork. Is your child continually running in the house? Show them other ways to move in the house safely, maybe they could tiptoe like a mouse or take giant dinosaur steps.

Talk about the “why.” When you set a limit for your child, don’t leave out the “why.” Explain why running with scissors is dangerous or that pulling hair hurts and is not kind. As children learn to manage and control their behavior, understanding why some things are not OK can help them make good decisions.

Setting limits is necessary for young children. It is how we keep them safe and how we teach them appropriate behaviors. Saying “no” is perfectly acceptable, but remember there are other ways to set limits for your child that can help them learn and grow.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.


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