No, No, No...
What Else is a Parent to Say?
By Michele R. Acosta
The word no is probably the most overused word in the
English language. I speak from experience since I myself use
I might begin a normal day by saying, "No, Joshua, you may
not have a hotdog for breakfast," or "No, Alex, please don't
throw your cereal on the floor." After breakfast, I might
say, "No, Joshua, don't hit your brother," or "No, Alex,
don't kick your brother."
While I'm making lunch, I usually need to tell Alex, "No,
you cannot climb onto the kitchen table." By early
afternoon, which is the time of day I set aside for my work,
I usually find myself telling Joshua, "No, you cannot wake
Alex from his nap" or "No! Don't touch Mommy's computer!"
By late afternoon, I find myself saying either one or a
combination of the following: "No, you cannot climb on the
dresser"; "No, you cannot sit on the dresser"; "No, you
cannot jump off of the dresser." By early evening my
repertoire usually includes, "No, boys, you cannot crash
your cars into the walls" and "No, Alex, you cannot eat the
cookie you've dropped on the floor. No! You can't take the
dirty cookie out of the garbage!" On any given day, by the
time my sons are securely tucked into their beds and are
soundly sleeping - that can be anywhere from 8:00 until
11:00 - I have probably used the word no at least
No has little value in our household, which I look upon as a
microcosm of the world at large. People habitually ignore
signs saying: no parking, no smoking, or no loitering. Last
night, I watched a man park his car in a parking place
reserved for the handicapped. Although the car had a
handicapped parking permit displayed properly, none of the
four people who emerged from the car had any visible
People generally look upon an answer of no as a challenge.
Romantic movies are filled with plots in which the guy
doesn't give up until he gets the girl and they live happily
ever after. If so many adults fail to respond to the word
no, then how can I expect anything different from two small
children? The answer is that I cannot expect anything
different, yet breaking the "no habit" is a difficult
With such blatant overuse, the word no has obviously lost
its meaning; at least it has lost its meaning for my sons.
The more often I say no, the less often my sons respond to
it; it is as if a viscous circle has taken over the
discipline in our household. If I had not already recognized
the overuse of this two-letter-word which has invaded my
home, I would have been startled when Alex, my
almost-two-year-old son, began saying, "No-no-no. No-no-no."
He has even been known to chant "no-no-no, no-no-no," while
walking through the house with a cup of juice. I console
myself with the thought that he at least understands that
juice does not belong outside of the kitchen.
I find this to be a very difficult situation. With boys like
mine, I cannot sit idly by waiting for a witty response to
hit me in the face. It is more likely that they will hit
each other in the face - or somewhere else. My greatest
concern is that one day they will be in a dangerous
situation (thinking, of course, that they are having great
fun) and that my warnings will go unheeded because no has no
meaning for them. Not that jumping off of dressers and
climbing on tables are not potentially dangerous situations;
this is the reason why I do not waste time on brilliantly
creative responses which would satisfy the gurus of child
psychology before mobilizing into action. It simply seems
that climbing and jumping are commonplace occurrences in my
house. In retrospect, it is easy to tell myself that I
should have been more creative in formulating responses to
my sons' exuberance and zest for life; however, in the midst
of two boys rolling on the floor with legs and arms
flailing, the word closest at hand is usually: No!
I have attempted to extricate myself from this circle in
which no resembles yes more than it resembles itself. I have
tried laughing; they laughed with me as they jumped from the
fourth step of the stair case. I have tried getting on the
floor and rolling around with them; they pinned me down and
Alex almost choked me as he tried to climb on my back for a
piggy-back-ride. At that moment, I again reverted to humor
saying to my son, "Alex, you are an instigator. Do you know
what that means?" He threw his arms up in the air and
I have tried to curb my use of the word no by curbing my
sons' activities. My attempts at discipline have included
giving time-outs, sending them to their rooms, and putting
them in corners. These methods seemed to have some immediate
value, but only until the next time. I even tried to instill
more meaning in the word no by saying very seriously, "No
means no!" I have to admit that I have been reduced to this
innocuous statement more often than once.
There are times when I simply let chaos reign. I listen
closely for the danger signals and intervene only if and
when I hear them. I can also count on Joshua, who recently
turned four, to tattle. It's wonderful because he even
tattles on himself.
Recently, I ignored all of the thuds and booms that I heard
coming from the toy room. I even ignored the cries and
screams since none lasted for more than a few seconds.
Eventually, Joshua came downstairs to tell me that Alex was
in the bathroom taking everything out of the cabinet. I
walked up the stairs, expecting to find towels strewn about.
Instead, I found Alex standing on the vanity removing all of
the medicine from the medicine cabinet. Joshua, who had
followed me up the stairs, left the bathroom and returned a
few moments later with a large bottle of children's cough
medicine and a small bottle of syrup of ipecac that he had
found in Alex's bedroom.
Somehow, no did not pack enough power to deal with the
situation, so I immediately purchased safety locks for the
bathroom and laundry room doors. That eliminated several
instances of no per day.
Since I cannot remove all of the furniture from my house,
and since I cannot alter my sons' perception of the word no
(any more than I can stop my brother from parking illegally
downtown), I must continue my search for other successful
methods of eliminating no from my vocabulary. The tactic
that usually works best with any child is patience;
although, it is difficult to be patient when your children
are perpetually black and blue, so I must use patience
cautiously when jumping and climbing are involved. There
are, however, plenty of other occasions in which the word no
surfaces in my house. On these occasions, it is my goal to
find another response to the situations which arise. So the
next time I catch Alex eating Vaseline, before groaning or
screeching - No! - I'll have to take a deep breath and say,
"Alex, are you hungry?"
If I can successfully reduce these instances of the word no
in my vocabulary, I hope that, with age, my sons will
eventually learn that no does have a meaning. Until that
time arrives, I am left with several years of holding my
breath every time I hear Joshua say, "Alex, let's jump!" In
the meantime, I have stocked up on Dalmatian Band-Aids and
Michele R. Acosta is a writer, a former English teacher, and
the mother of three boys. She spends her time writing and
teaching others to write. Visit Email the author at
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