New ways to say “no” to avoid toddler tantrums

The first word that many children utter is “no”. This isn’t surprising, considering how many dangers we’re always warning them against and how many times we play “the bad policeman” card when they don’t get what they want. South African education and parenting expert Robin Booth says there are healthier ways to parent your child – and to say no to avoid toddler tantrums.

ALSO SEE: 8 steps to take when your toddler says no

“The only reason we say ‘no’ at any point in time, is because we don’t know how to say ‘yes’, while keeping our boundaries in place and meeting our child’s needs at the same time,” says Robin, who founded the Synergy School in Cape Town based on his progressive educational approach. He is now an internationally respected expert in his field.

Common “no” triggers

We are often prompted to say “no” to our children. For example, when they want:

  • To watch TV instead of going to bed
  • Another chocolate
  • To stay longer at a party
  • To wear inapropriate clothing in winter.

Robin says that there are many times when we can’t give a child what he or she desires. Simply saying “no” each time, however, is experienced as a ‘call to attack’, which means that children then mobilise their energy into a counter attack!

ALSO SEE: 4 difficult toddler situations sorted

Alternatives to saying “no” to avoid toddler tantrums

Robin suggests asking yourself the following questions :

  • What are the future consequences that are causing you to say “no”?
  • What are your core needs that have to be be met so these probable future consequences won’t be an issue for you?
  • What is a possible solution that will meet these core needs?

Scenario 1

You: “Okay, it’s time to bath.”

Your child: “I want to shower!”

You know that your child will get her hair wet in the shower, which means she will go to bed with wet hair so you say “no”. You’re answering no because of the probable future, which is wet hair – and your core need, which is to minimise the chances of your child falling ill and for her to have a good night’s sleep.

The only reason you’re saying no, says Robin, is that you don’t have the current skills, or a solution, that would meet both your child’s needs and your own. They key is to communicate your concerns to your child. by saying: “Well, I’m worried about your hair getting wet in the shower and you having to go to bed with wet hair. Show me how you can keep your hair dry and if I’m convinced that it will work, then I’m happy for you to shower.”

Your child may then come up with a solution like : “I have a swimming cap. If I put it on, then my hair won’t get wet.”

This solution will most likely meet your needs and eliminate your reason for saying “no”.

Scenario 2

Give your child a chance to think of a solution. For example, she wants to ride her bike in the passage, but she has lined up her dolls there.

Instead of saying, “No, you can’t ride your bike – your dolls are in the way and you’ll fall!”, rather say, “I am worried about you falling over your dolls if you ride your bike here. Can you show me how to make the passage safe for you to ride? If you can, then you may ride your bike.”

Scenario 3

Rather than saying “no” or pointing out the negative in what your child is doing, try a different approach.

If your child is swinging on her bunk bed, then instead of saying, “no” or “stop that!”, explain what the object (the bunk bed) is used for and then suggest alternatives for the action (swinging).

You could explain that bunk beds are for reading or sleeping, and that swinging is for the jungle gym outside, or somewhere else appropriate. Then ask your child where she’d like to swing instead, based on the choices you’ve given her.

Regardless of your child’s age, she has the ability to be part of the solution – even if she can’t talk yet. Younger, preverbal children can use other skills like describing, demonstrating, sharing information and acknowledging feelings.

Parenting is all about the relationship between you and your child, and successful relationships depend on successful communication, concludes Robin.

Visit for more information about Robin’s approaches and

This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of Living and Loving.

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