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Health & Parenting

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How to Say No (Without Saying No)

Give him a choice

Your preschooler is throwing his ball in the living room, and you're bracing yourself for the sound of something crashing. Instead of saying, "No! No balls indoors," try saying, "You can roll the ball indoors or take it outside and throw it — your choice." Why? By offering him an option, you help your child feel like he has some power over the situation. "For kids between the ages of 1 and 3, this also encourages them to make simple choices and develop a sense of independence and competence," says Lerner. Just avoid overwhelming a young child with too many options: For toddlers and preschoolers, two is just right.

Show and tell

Two-year-old Henry keeps poking his baby sister; his dad keeps telling him, "No, stop." Why won't he? "Some children can't stop what they're doing, even when you tell them to, because they don't know what to do instead," says parent educator Elizabeth Crary, author of Without Spanking or Spoiling. You may have to help them figure it out. Henry, for example, needs his dad to say, "Give Sarah a kiss," or some similar suggestion; then he'll have an image in his mind of something to do instead of poking. Younger toddlers might need you to actually help them do what you're asking of them as you make your request: If your child's hitting the cat, say, "Gentle," while you guide her hand in a stroking motion. Do this enough times, and she'll begin to figure it out for herself. Same goes for kids' unconscious and often excruciatingly irritating kicking and banging — on the table, the back of your seat, whatever. "Often, kids are not doing these things on purpose," says Lerner. "Some children are very active and feel best when their body parts are moving — they're doing it unconsciously." Help your child connect with what her body is doing. You could try a humorous approach: "Tell that foot to stop!" Or simply help her figure out what else she could do with the offending body part: Perhaps your daughter is willing to make quiet little circles with her foot. Since long phrases are hard for the very young to process, you could simply tell a small toddler, "Quiet foot," and place your hand on her foot to show her.

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