If you’ve heard of peaceful parenting, then you’re likely familiar with the concept of setting limits for a child to hear. But the difficulty doesn’t come from applying those limits; it comes from choosing limits that meet your needs and your family’s requirements, but that your child can still hear and understand.

While something may sound perfectly reasonable to us as adults, to children, it may not make sense or could be misinterpreted. That’s why it’s crucial to design limits from the basis of what makes sense to your child – and so they can completely hear what you require of them, without the need for hard ‘no’s.

How can we set limits and boundaries?

The Parenting Junkie says the way to get around saying no is to instead phrase your answer as a conditional yes. The concept is that, instead of directly refusing a request from our child, we instead find the ‘hidden yes’ where a refusal exists.

For example, if your child is requesting more playtime before they do their homework, the instinct is to say no. Instead, you can turn your answer on its head by saying a conditional yes, setting limits without the requirement of a hard no.

Here are some examples of answers you could use instead:

  • Yes, you can have more time to play once you’ve completed your homework
  • Yes, you can play for ten minutes when you have finished one assignment
  • Yes, let’s use your toys to figure out this math puzzle

While some answers are more suitable than others – that all depends on the limits you already have in place – saying yes instead of no can be a powerful tool for parents. As is often pointed out when it comes to more discipline-led parenting, negative language wins out over the positives, which can have a long-term impact on the mental health and happiness of children. Saying no is often a knee-jerk reaction to a situation, and the more annoyed or angry we are, the sharper our responses are.

No parent enjoys being asked the same thing repeatedly or being nagged or whinged at to do something or have something. But by setting limits differently, we can establish what is and isn’t allowed without resorting to harsher words.

Sometimes you just have to say, “No.”

There are some situations where ‘no’ is always going to be the reaction – for example, if your child is in danger or puts someone else in danger. In those cases, the word no is the first thing that comes to mind. But by using ‘no’ in the same way in less extreme circumstances, the word loses a lot of its power; making it something frustrating and annoying but not something that indicates a dire situation.

Setting limits using positive language can resolve this issue, and allows parents to establish the things they want their child to understand effectively.

Setting boundaries and limits

One point often made surrounding setting boundaries, and limits for children is the capacity children have to understand and comprehend the limitations set on them. Especially in younger children, there is no reason in their minds for these rules; leading to frustration when they hit a wall or are unable to do something they want to. This is especially true for toddlers and young children, that don’t have the understanding or awareness emotionally or mentally to understand why ‘no means no’.

Setting limits your child can hear is made far more manageable through the use of positive reinforcement and understanding, allowing your child to be a little more autonomous and have a greater understanding of their impact on those around them. The Parenting Junkie states, in adult society, we don’t talk to people with harsh phrases or single-word sentences; so we shouldn’t be teaching our children to behave in this way.

But what about situations in which the thing your child wants can’t happen?

Whether it’s having another chocolate bar, playing outside on their own or even going on holiday, replacing negative language with ‘I wish’ is one way to use yes phrasing without confusing your child with promises or suggestions that something will happen as they want it.

I wish we could have another chocolate bar, but one a day is what we agreed is a more positive way to say no, and keeps you firmly on your child’s side. You’re not the enemy; you’re just the parent, and as such reinforcing those limits is important – and doing so in a way your child can hear is even more vital.

Do you use ‘no’ when you discipline your child? What do you think about setting limits using ‘yes’ language?

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