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How to Say No (And Really Mean It!)

It’s just two tiny letters, yet saying "No"—and sticking to it—is one of the toughest tasks parents face. Some common goofs well-meaning parents make, and how to avoid them:

Mommy mistake: You say "No" too quickly.

Instead… Pause to consider your answer.

It’s like a reflex—your child asks for something, and you automatically blurt out "No." After a few minutes of pleading, though, you change your mind and give in. Instead, take a moment to think out your answer, suggests Betsy Brown Braun, author of You’re Not the Boss of Me. "Never say no if there is even the remotest possibility that you will change your mind," she says, "because then you are teaching your child that ‘no’ sometimes means ‘yes.’"

Mommy mistake: Your mouth says "No," but your eyes and voice say "Yes."

Instead… Make sure you mean it.

Kids are experts at reading faces and tones of voice—so if you say "No" in a too-sweet voice or smile apologetically, your child might not take your answer seriously. You don’t have to raise your voice or scowl, but an "I mean business" face and firm tone will get your message across loud and clear.

Mommy mistake: You get caught up in a long "But why not?" discussion.

Instead… Give a quick reason and move on.

Toddlers may not have extensive vocabularies, but they’ll use every word they know to try to change your mind. Simply say, "You can’t have that cookie because we’re eating dinner soon, and I’m all done talking about it."

Mommy mistake: You give in to tears.

Instead… Divert their attention.

It’s hard to listen to your child cry, but giving in will just teach them to turn on the waterworks to get what they want. The good news is that toddlers are easily distracted, says Brown Braun. "Say, ‘No, you can’t buy that stuffed animal, but let’s go outside and look for a fire truck or police car!’"

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