How To Tell Kids They’re Not Getting What They Want With Positive Discipline

How do you say no to these faces?

I have a busy house full of my kids, their friends, neighbourhood kids, and an assorted number of random drop-ins. I’d rather not sound like the meanest mommy on the block, so I have a few key phrases that allow me to say “NO WAY” to my kids, without using those exact words. Here are a few of my favourites:

“Asked and Answered”

You know that annoying habit kids have of asking you the same thing over and over again in hopes of wearing you down so they get their own way?  Rather than saying, “NO” a hundred times, I simply answer the question once. If the nagging child continues asking, I respond with, “asked and answered.” It shows them that I’m unwavering and saves me from saying, “NO” repeatedly.

For example:

Kid: “Mom, can Addie sleep over?”

Me:  “No, not tonight.”

Kid: “Mom, PLEASE can Addie sleep over?”

Me:  “Asked and answered.”

(End conversation)

“One per Customer”

One of the downsides of giving a kid a treat is that they don’t just appreciate that one treat, they always beg for more. When I have a houseful of kids and I have them all screaming for more of this or another of that, I feel like going all “Soup Nazi” on them and screaming, “NO WAY, you greedy brats!” Instead, I use positive discipline to smile and say, “Sorry, it’s one per customer.”  In other words, take whatever is being served up and move right along.

“Try Again With Your Cool Voice”

You know that whiney voice kids use whenever they possibly can? Rather than disciplining children by telling them what NOT to do (i.e. “Stop your whining, it’s driving me CRAZY!”) I try to be proactive and tell them what TO DO (i.e. “Can you try asking again with your cool voice?) That way I’m not whining, about their whining.

“No Opinion Shopping”

Opinion shopping is when kids go to one parent for permission to do something and when they don’t like the answer they get, they go to the other parent hoping for a different outcome. When my kids or their friends try this, rather than screaming, “No, you manipulative little freaks!” I smile and remind them that there is no opinion shopping allowed.

All these phrases tell my kids they’re not getting their way, and allow me to appear calm, cool and collected while delivering the message. Do you have any parenting tips or “go to” key phrases in your family?


About the Author:

Julie Cole Mabel's Labels

Julie Cole

Julie Cole is co-founder of Mabel’s Labels Inc., the leading provider of kids’ labels, and a proud mom of six.

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5 Responses to “How To Tell Kids They’re Not Getting What They Want With Positive Discipline”

  1. Beth

    “Try again with your cool voice” is my favourite. It allows the child to be aware and self evaluate their response. Whiney is a habit.

  2. Rebecca

    I love these tips and I use them often myself but what advice do you have for divorced parents where one parents practices positive parenting and the other allows for these behaviours to gain appreciation and love from the child?

    I find it very difficult to deal with.

  3. Andrei @ The Joy of Pareting

    I can imagine how this could work as a quick and dirty solution, but would like to expand a little for parents who may wonder what other options are available in case one has more than 10 seconds.

    I am implying that knowing the right phrase to “top” your child playground-argument-style, is not enough. It is true that popular culture makes it seem that if a parent cah successfully make their child shut up by outsmarting them is enough. But there’s more.

    A present, connected parent would rather: show understanding by reflecting back to the child the child’s desire and possibly the child’s emotional state. Then, after and only after the child has indicated that they feel heard, explain the reasons why fulfilling the child’s desire is not possible right now. Lastly, co-create a possible solution with the child who now has understanding of the issue.

    This builds connection and trust (“I am on your side, always” — this is the most important, valuable and fragile asset in the parent-child relationship), provides practical learning (the why and what — this is how we learn to ask these questions and become an adult), and trains real-life, no-nonsense choice-making (delayed gratification, negotiation, respect, building real confidence).

    I am sure there are situations where a parent must be brief, and preserve their attention. It is important to know, however, that when the shortcut is used, it has the cost of a missed opportunity, diminished trust and the possiblity that the child will feel isolated and even humiliated.

    Happy Parenting!
    Andrei @

    • Julie Cole

      Hey Andrei – no parenting can happen in isolation. Conversations about when and why these phrases will be used are important. Discussing before an incident and chatting afterwards is ongoing in our home. I find these phrases respectfully shut down inappropriate behavior. Thanks for chiming in.


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