Dare Not to Say The Word “No” to Kids

“No”…I belt out as William plows over Marc, who is almost 2 years younger from the back. You can almost hear the impact and it stands up the hair on the back of my neck, worrying whether or not Marc now has a dismembered vertebrae. But his resilient body bouncing back up on his feet reassures the incident would not require a rush to the E.R. “Shit…” I comment to my self I meant to say STOP, but at the point of impact on Marc’s back by Williams palm at ramming speed; I could have said worst things.

After all, the Director of the school asked that we experiment as teachers to refrain from using of the word “no.” And so, I began my further inquiry into getting to know this word “no.”

For some kids “no” is the first word they sling out of their mouth, and as adults we pay reverence to this. Until, their “no” comments begin to sound like a broken record. And into our adult years the “no” word becomes a word of habit, like an uncontrollable hiccup.

Should we reconsider our use of the word “no” when communicating with children and what sort of impact does the sort of language have on them psychologically and emotionally?

“No” is an ends without the means. In other words telling a child no, on a constant bases places them in a position of disempowerment, confusion, and fear, without a rational and respectful explanation. Saying, “no, please don’t do that,” or “no…writing on the walls,” or “no…standing on the table,” only restricts their freedom to follow their intrinsic interests to want to explore. Over use of the word can back children into a corner, feeling uncertain as to what they can and cannot not do, while putting a punitive tone on language. “No” puts youth in a bind, blurring the line of what they can and cannot do, much like a person being subjected to tyranny. And this can carry negative connotations, to how they behave, often finding ways to explore behind the parent or teachers back. “No” can carry an authoritarian tone and as adults we need to mindful of this. And kids can commonly explain why a behavior may or may not be a “good” idea, when giving the time to ask them.

As adults we can begin by questioning how often we tell our friends or family “no?” And then question why we would consider using the word “no,” when speaking with youth?

Can “no” have a place in certain situations?

Slipping the “N” word on a child is easy to do when they are about to throw a large rock at a classmate or blindly walk into the street – anything to stop a behavior if it is entirely unsafe. Some schools have steered away from the “N” word and for good reason. Our school concentrates on replacing “no” with “stop.” The children and adults at the school often apply the word “stop” to place emphasis on a behavior they do not agree with. “Stop” is usually followed up on the feelings and reasons why, one person is asking another person to cut something out. For example, a kid may say: “stop it…it does not make me feel good.” And an adult can say: “stop throwing the wood chips at people…I am concerned someone could get hurt.” These are all situations where safety is a general concern and the kids often use this language when they are stuck in uncomfortable situations. And we are all really cautious just to use the word “stop” when only necessary.

When the word “no” on the other hand is flung around like dung, as I have seen it with my own sister’s interaction with her kids, I notice how my nephews and nieces sit on a fence, wondering if they are “right or wrong.” My sister is a deeply compassionate woman who has taught for years, but I don’t think she has paused long enough to actually hear her self, as “no” easily becomes a habitual word. And this use of the word “no” does not distinguish ourselves from the language pet owners and pet trainers use frequently to talk to animals.

Saying no, to the use of the word “no,” can be a valuable lesson in how we relate to kids. The kids at the school rarely use the word “no,” with one another. And the relationship with adults at the school is quite positive; they know what the rules are because they have come up with them their selves. If the word “no” frequently pops up in your interaction with young people, then dare your self to stay clear of the word for a period of time. And then take note of the changes ahead.

Preschool Punks. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint/publish, please contact Paul at riseout@riseup.net

  1. #1 by Peripheral Vision on October 8, 2006 - 3:32 am

    When my daughter was born and I asked family and friends to refrain from telling her “NO,” they thought I was crazy. They talked about what she was going to be like when she was older and they were so right; not that I’m crazy but that my daughter is a strong-willed, argumentative, risk-taker. And I’d have it no other way.

  2. #2 by phrenseed on October 12, 2006 - 1:52 am

    No is a word with no negotiation. No does not teach us the difference between what another person can’t do, and what another person won’t do – so very important in loving wisely. I think, very nearly, this is as close to a description to a theme of my web site that you can come. Keep inquiring, that is the imporant thing. http://www.gnuzworks.com

  3. #3 by Magda Santos on July 6, 2007 - 2:44 pm

    No, is an over used word if you are a child, however, no is seldom invoked when speaking to adults. Why is that? I think that it’s because children are not considered valued enough to have a conversation with.

    Children are to be controlled.

    As many of you have pointed out, no is a word that does not specify what exactly went wrong. It doesn’t tell you much. It just demands you give up control to another.

    If a child dares question the command or ignores the command because they think it’s not taking the whole situation into consideration they’re considered rude or difficult.

    I think dignity needs to come into question when you talk about the word “no” and how it should be used.

  4. #4 by RISEOUT on July 6, 2007 - 2:54 pm

    What I also find interesting is how often we people speak to their pets using the same language. “No, get down from there; No, more biting; No, get out of this room; No, down…,no…

    And often we turn around, and speak the same language to kids.

  5. #5 by Erica Gongloff on November 16, 2010 - 2:05 pm

    No is a powerful word. Using it too frequently as a adults dulls its power both as a useful word (Much as the word “stop” is used above). More importantly, children need to hear it in situations that exhibit its power so when they choose to use it (and read here, NEED to use it) as a protective device, it retains its power and they use it with confidence. Research shows the word NO and the word STOP often end abuse attempts. If we could give back the power of the word, that would be great. In our everyday life, finding alternative ways to redirect behavior is really really important, not just to allow children to see all sides of a situation, but to give them a good word of power. There is a reason “NO” shortly follows “Mama” in language development. It is important, powerful, and needed.

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