Do you love the excitement on your little one's face when you say yes to something they really want? Do you cringe inwardly when you know you are going to have to be the "bad guy" and say no? With some skillful maneuvering, you won't have to play bad cop very often.
We believe that it's important to say yes to everything you reasonably can say yes to, and to only say no for a strong reason, like safety or health. But the key to avoiding negativity is to stay out of yes-or-no scenarios. Instead, offer choices.
Offering a choice between two acceptable alternatives makes a yes inevitable. You only offer options that you feel good about, so you can accept either choice your child makes.
Offer only two options. Children feel overwhelmed and confused by more options than this. This is especially true if your child is under three, but even for three- and four-year-olds, a choice between two options is most likely to go smoothly.
It is important to preemptively strike. Maybe you normally have a battle in the morning over something inappropriate your child wants to wear. The night before, you can choose two acceptable outfits for the next day, and ask your preschooler, "Which of these would you like to wear tomorrow?"
Train your child in decision-making by talking to your child about your thought process. Say, "It's going to be cold tomorrow, so we need to wear something with long sleeves. Would you like the blue sweater or the purple one?"
Offering choices as often as possible will work like magic to reduce the number of times you have to say no to your child, but eventually, nos will come up.
When you have to say no to a request, empathize, and then offer an alternative. It is important to validate your child's desires by saying something like, "Oh, wouldn't that be fun? I wish we could do that."
After you have empathized, try to offer an alternative to their request. For example, perhaps your four-year-old wants to go play inside a neighbor's house, and you don't feel comfortable with that because you don't know the neighbors very well. Say, "That sounds like fun. Why don't we invite the neighbors outside to have a picnic with us?" Try to fulfill the desire behind the request in an acceptable, alternative way.
By age three, it is important to give a very simple reason for your answer. Telling your child a reason is a reality check for you (to make sure that you really have a reason!), but it also teaches your child to trust you, because he sees that you have his best interest at heart and that you have a good reason for what you say.
We would all like our children to accept "no" calmly. This is a skill that is learned over a long period of teaching. You will need to repeatedly teach your child how to express her feelings appropriately. "Tell me how you feel using your quiet voice," or "It's ok to say that you're angry, but you may not scream," are things that you may need to teach over and over before your child internalizes these messages. You can create a safe container for their emotions by sticking firmly but kindly by your decisions, and by staying calm even when your child is not. Eventually they will learn to respond respectfully to being told no.
Dealing with "no" feels like a big deal with toddlers and preschoolers, but rest assured that as you offer choices, say yes as much as possible, and treat nos in as positive a way as possible, these situations will continue to get easier and easier.