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How to Say No (Without Saying No)

Sound like you mean it

"Kids initially learn the meaning of the word no largely from the tone of your voice when you say it," Lerner says. "So you can communicate what you need to say by using the same firm tone without the negative word." Reserve this strict tone for those times when your child needs to know not to mess with you. Likewise, you can also develop a "look" — or a penetrating glare — that immediately signifies to your child, "I don't like what you're doing, and you'd better stop."

Avoid being a party pooper by helping your child find an activity that's just as much fun as the one you're putting off-limits. Instead of freaking out about the mess your toddler's making when she dumps a box of cereal on the floor, distract her with something else that's just as entertaining for her, like a favorite toy. "If you stay connected with your child and the fun she's having, she'll be more apt to cooperate with you," says psychologist Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., author of Playful Parenting. And turning her attention — and your own — to something pleasurable will help you relax about the cleanup job ahead, as well as the mischief and mishaps yet to come.

Originally published on January 14, 2008

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