Monday, April 18, 2011

NO! How to use "NO" to Help Them Shine

No television was allowed in our house as the kids grew up...well not quite true, they were allowed educational shows on PBS such as Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, Mister Rodger's Neighborhood and Wishbone.  They didn't like hearing "NO" you can't watch what your friends are watching, and they thought they were fooling me with play dates as they went to friends to watch - once homework was completed.  The thing is with "NO" they learned limits, they learned structure, they learned about exceptions.

"No!" and/or  " Wrong!"

The way I look at this, there are two issues with "NO."  
  1. Telling a child, or anyone that they can't do something. 
  2. Responding to a question with a wrong answer.
In regards to not being allowed to do something, sometimes it is for the safety of the child, sometimes it's for the sanity of the adult, and sometimes someone is just being mean and/or petty.

We'll ignore mean and petty today, and save them for another day.

Regarding "NO" : Use this sparingly.  You want inquisitive minds and you want your kids to explore and to take calculated, relatively safe risks.  This is how they learn and create.  Boundaries and options are better than, "NO." Say for example, "no, you can't go outside now, it's late and time for bath and then bed... but, you can pretend you are Ishmael hunting a great white whale in the bath tub!"

Regarding "No, Wrong":  Giving an incorrect response can actually be GOOD.

First, "No, WRONG" can be harsh, painful words - and again, you want your kids to want to explore options and take risks.  Too many "no, wrong"'s can discourage creative thinking and going out on intellectual limbs, and so many times there are many perspectives to an issue.  Too many "wrong"s can easily discourage kids from voicing opinions when there are multiple ways of responding.

Second, a wrong answer (in my opinion), is ever so much better than no answer.  With a wrong answer, our kids are at least engaged in learning.  They are trying to sort, consolidate, manipulate data and information.  With a wrong answer you have the opportunity of exploring the world from another perspective. No response is no risk.  No response is no learning.  This clip from Billy Madison, is funny in the movie, but no one likes hearing that their responses made everyone stupider for listening to them.

Be you parent, grandparent, responsible 'other' or educator - take advantage of the wrong answer and open up new worlds!

How do you deal with saying "No" or "No, wrong answer"?
  • Reinforce your child's responding.
  • If you say "no" because of safety issues, explain the ramifications. Explain that they could get hurt or that there is no time for that activity but they may want to do something that takes less time.
  • Provide alternatives:  Provide more appropriate alternative options if you have to say "no" and provide alternative perspectives if an answer is incorrect.
  • If a response is wrong, instead of a "no" ask if they've thought of the problem from a different perspective. 
I remember one of my students, for example, said that kids with learning disabilities are not smart.  This is clearly a response that has to be dealt with as it is clearly not true.  In fairness to this student, I must say that he had just moved to the States from Hong Kong and there were definitely cultural factors involved. But, that said, his response had to be addressed.

Instead of saying, "no, you're wrong," I asked him if thought Einstein was not smart.  When the student responded "no, he was brilliant" I then told him that Einstein had learning disabilities and added that learning disabilities means people process information and learn differently.  They see the world differently, and in Einstein's case this helped him discover many properties others had not seen.  This then led to a discussion on perspective, on different ways to study for tests, and different ways of solving problems, and the class discussed how they tackled the same problems differently.  It led to self awareness as well as to greater respect for others.  It also helped validate their own idiosyncracies and relieve many of their own insecurities with class material.

What happens when the wrong answer is funny?

 We all know kids say the darndest things and sometimes they are so serious and so proud of their answers, and we can't help but laugh.  When they're young,  a laugh with a side of love and a hug can be reinforcing. The love and a hug aren't always as effective with an older child.  With them, after the inevitable, unavoidable laugh or chuckle, I would still opt for the hug, and then get serious, validate the try, and discuss what went wrong.

The point is that wrong answers (aside from sometimes being entertaining), are jumping off points for learning.  Take advantage of them.  Talk about them - why the wrong answer was initially given, what merits are there to that answer, why is it wrong, how can you find a better answer?

Please let me know how you handle "no" or wrong answers.  And, if you have time (almost 10 minutes) enjoy this "The Weakest Link Elvis Special...Wrong Answers."


  1. Great post! I told my son "no" today about being in the talent show at school. He just does not have the chops for it. His sister on the other hand does. She sings really well and I think he believes that he can sing too because of her. I explained that singing wasn't his talent. He's an awesome athlete, and often wins awards for that. I don't know what possessed him to want to sing. I hope I did the right thing by telling him he wasn't good at it. I did tell him what he was good at, though.

  2. Great post. I agree and do much of what you write. 'No' should be sparingly used. I try to say 'later' if that is a possibility or provide an alternative and save 'no' for when it really is 'no' in which case it is necessary for children to learn there are things they cannot do/have. 'No' definitely has its place in setting boundaries. As a parent/teacher I would much rather a child gave a wrong response than no response. I praise and encourage trying as being very important in order to learn. I will gauge the development of the child as to how much information they need about being wrong. I could write so much more about this! Thanks for the thought provoking post.
    I wrote a poem about saying no - about the importance of children being listened to when they say 'no'.

  3. Indeed, there are specific times when "No" is warranted, such as safety issues and when teaching family values. But other times, "No—because I said so" is a harried parent's response instead of taking the time to offer alternatives or taking advantage of a teachable moment.

    Your response to your student's remark about learning disabilities was brilliant. Your cultural sensitivity, insight and patience are such a gift to the educational community and the world at large.

  4. My dyslexic student and I were talking about how students differ in their learning abilities just yesterday! And I pretty much said the same thing as you wrote, only in different words. Those two videos (Billy Martin & Jeopardy) were absolutely hilarious. There are times in high school classes where Billy might have been right on the mark, though! LOL Very insightful post on such a simple two-letter word.

    abcw team

  5. What a deep research and thoughtful, informative and excellent post on the use of "NO"....It's thrown around so carelessly. Thank you for the time you spent to give us such a good post.

  6. I was having a conversation with someone about good signage, and NO should be used as sparingly as possible. Instead of 'NO shoes, NO service,' say 'Shoes are required here'.

    BTW, I saw that JEOPARDY! and came up with the SAME ANSWER. Glad I wasn't on TV at the time.

    And may I say that every week, your posts are great!

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  7. Thank you, Roger, I really appreciate it. And, I also came up with the same answer!

  8. Very NICE N.

    Please come and see what my N is at Nostalgic marveling, thanks!

  9. I appreciate posts like this. It reminds me of my parenting responsibilities. Thanks.

  10. I've always believed in there is "no wrong answer"

    have a great day :)

  11. Good post. I agree that no should be used sparingly.

  12. I love how you responded to the child with the Einstein answer! Nice one. I need to work on using my "no" less often.

  13. another great post. Where were you when my guys were growing up? All kidding aside, I feel 'no' is needed for very young mostly in safety issues and in the child that may have a disability that will not stop a dangerous activity by gentle or stern actions. some times physically moving the child away from the danger may help, but curiosity can be hard to stop. and if too young to understand why or not being able to, a strong no may work. I loved the Einstein analogy too. ~Faythe~

  14. Meryl, loved this post. If it's a public forum, like in church during a children's message, I will spare the child's feelings by saying, "Wow, I didn't think of that," or "That's a good idea. And I wonder..."

    Sometimes "no" is needed. Safety, as you mentioned, is when it's needed most. Although I find our generation generally didn't say "no" enough, when my daughter wanted something expensive and I was low on funds, I'd usually say, "Well, maybe another day, we'll have to see." She understood. Amy

  15. Very educational post. my 9 yr old son doesn't like to hear a "no" to his whenever i say no it should be followed by explanation before he could react. lol

    Thanks for the ABC comment.

  16. I used to ask my classes to say 'no' with different intonations - it made them think about the many meanings one little word can have.

  17. That is a great idea. It also helps with social cognition - learning to read non-verbal tones as well. Thanks.

  18. This is a great post. I agree with using "no" sparingly. My three year old responds best to positive affirming statements like "please use nice hands" instead of "no, don't push your brother." When I use "no" and "don't," it's almost as if he only hears what comes after and his behavior reflects that!

  19. The television has been a topic of heated debate for decades now. A blessing and a curse. Here is my TT bit:

  20. Meryl,
    As always, an insightful and informative post. I try to be aware of my "no's" and I absolutely agree with the avoidance of "no, you're wrong." I think my response most is, "really, are you sure? Think about it again..." or "That's an interesting way to see it. I see it like this." I'm not perfect, but the result from an attempt at this consistency has kept my kids inquisitive so far. One day at a time right?

  21. My daughter is teaching my 2-year-old grandgirl to say Yes/No ma'am/sir. One night I said it was time to go to bed and she answered me very matter-of-factly with, "No Ma'am." I had to play along, so I said, "Yes Ma'am," and we traded ma'ams for a while. I won.

    No's have their place. Like when you say:
    No, I'll never stop loving you!

  22. Great post! I totally agree with the message. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  23. I agree with you. My daughter learned early there is no inherent logic in doing what the neighbors are doing just because they are doing it. I need proof that they know better! Ha. Good stuff.

  24. Following from Friday blog hop :D

  25. I still remember a science paper written by a student when I was student teaching with first graders (in the age of dinosaurs). We had been doing a unit on animals in preparation for a zoo field trip. He wrote, "Kangaroo babies are called joeys. Kangaroos love in Australia." (True. . . that's how kangaroo babies come into being, but wrong in the sense that his parents would have been mortified by the misspelling).

  26. wow, very interesting...thanks for sharing and for dropping by...great to be here.

  27. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm your newest follower!


  28. Thank you for stopping by. Great post!

  29. I tried to limit the 'strictly no' to 'important things'- but for minute issues, instead of 'no' I'd answer with what they could do instead... like instead 'No' to "Can I have a Cookie??"
    the answer might be: "yes, you can have a cookie after lunch."

    it took me awhile to figure out what you meant by 'No, wrong'- I usually let my boys figure out they are wrong on their own I guess- so I had trouble understanding what 'no. wrong' meant.

    thanks for visiting my blog and commenting

  30. Found you through the blog hop. Great blog! I am now following. Please stop by my blog Diaper Style Memoirs and follow back ;) Enter the awesome giveaway from SpiritHoods kids while you're there.


  31. I agree! Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy your weekend!

  32. Television was not allowed in our home for a long time, for good. its a bad habit for sure, esp for growing kids.

    the remaining post is very wise and full of good suggestions. thanks for sharing it.

  33. Newest follower- getting caught up on my blog hopping. Better later than never. Please return the favor and visit me too.

    i like this post. i just realized i may say no too often- i do always offer and explanation though.

  34. Thanks for checking out my blog this weekend and the follow! I am returning the favor and look forward to reading more!! :) Hope you had a great weeekend!

  35. You wanted a communicator, huh? I think that's awesome. It would have been great to beam yourself anywhere you want to be. Cheers!