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WebMD Expert Discussion: The Best Ways to Say 'NO'

Does your child think his middle name is "No"?

"Charlie! No! Stop that!"
"Charlie! No! Put that down!"
"Charlie! No! We don't put the cat in the microwave!"

"No" is a powerful word, says WebMD guest parenting expert, Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP. But it can lose its oomph when we use it too much, or under the wrong circumstances, she says. In WebMD's online discussion about Healthy Family Routines, Altmann provides advice to parents of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers on how to minimize unnecessary no's and make the no's you do use matter.

  • Babies: With small infants, what they want and what they need are pretty much the same things. So most of the time, we give them what they want and need. Around 9 months of age, your baby will start to recognize the word no. But before that, you can't really expect an infant to understand what you mean.
  • Toddlers: At this age, make your no's count. Toddler-proof your home by putting hazardous objects out of reach. That way, you're not constantly saying no to your child's natural urges to explore. Substitute other phrases for no, like, "We sit on chairs, not stand," or, "Hot! Ouch! Not safe!"
  • Preschoolers: Consistency is key. Your preschooler needs to understand that when you say no, you mean it. Don't let tantrums wear you down. And give simple explanations for your no's, such as, "We have a delicious dinner that will be ready in 15 minutes. You may have a treat after dinner, but not before."

By using no less often and more carefully, Altmann says, you can make this simple word much more effective and meaningful to your kids.

Do you have any tips to share? How do you say no to your children and cut down on unwanted behaviors?

Discussion led by Tanya Altmann, MD Guest Expert
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Guest Expert What is a guest expert?

Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP, is a best-selling author, a working mother, and a UCLA-trained pediatrician, practicing in Southern California.

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