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Set boundaries with kids without the word "No"

When a child is naturally curious and wants to do all sorts of interesting things, can you find a way to stop them without using the word "No"? When you start by yelling at your child, "No! don't touch the lamp above the kitchen table." The thing that your child is hearing is "touch the lamp". They don't really register the rest of the thing. And if they are in a heightened state of arousal or sensory overloaded, their hearing is mostly shut off from you and everyone else. They just hear touch, touch. In their mind, they were just interested in how the lamp glows with light and it seemed like a good idea to touch it because it makes a cool swinging motion. Once you have tried to say don't do that, they then get fixated on that lamp and start to work toward hitting it more. And now, they are up on top of the table and hitting it more. Because seeing dust falling through the air is really exciting. But as a parent, you are panicking because there is dust falling into the food and this is supposed to be your quiet dinner time meal.


So, if this happens in your household. Stop and pause. Take a deep breath. How can you help them without using the word "no" or lectures to stop the behavior?


First of all, you must understand that impulse control is part of executive functioning which doesn't develop in most child's brains until they are 18 at the earliest and for some people, it's way into their 20s. That means that if their brain has an impulse to do something, they will most of the time just act on it.

If you don't want the child to do those things, then we need to give the brain something else to focus on. It doesn't work well just to tell them to suppress these instincts.


Move them away from the object you don't want and talk about something else. Don't take the situation as an attack against your parenting if they are not listening to you. They often times can't hear you or what you are saying is actually making them want to repeat the behavior. If you simply say no and your kid just goes more for the same thing, this is clearly not working so you have to go about this in a different way.


Start by trying to get inside your child's mind. In other words, think from their perspective some of the time and try to empathize. When your child is getting into something they shouldn't - give them two options instead. Often a child doing something we don't want can be a signal that they need more movement or that they might be hungry. So, quick think up two options that your child can do - and you need to be ok with both options.


Would you like to


A. Eat an apple or

B. Jump up and down.



This will get your kid out of being fixated on what you don't want them to do. Their brain starts to engage with you and think about the options. Sometimes they will still be upset that they couldn't do X . But, at least you are giving them some options.


When you simply start out with NO! you can't have the chocolate bar or No! you can't have the permanent markers - you get their brain into opposing you. And my kid will simply dig in the heels and be more determined to do whatever it is that was said "no" to.


Remember parenting isn't about always being right or constantly correcting your child, it's about remembering to think about who they are and connecting with them.



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