The Art of Saying No: Why Positive Parenting Doesn’t Mean Always Saying Yes

300-adviceKids’ Corner | By Patrick Biron –

A lot of parents like to talk about how “back in their day,” discipline and parenting were very different. My dad was regularly spanked and swatted by teachers all the way up through high school. I can only imagine what would happen if a faculty member spanked a 17 year-old today, but I digress.

Positive parenting, and indeed positive reinforcement in general, have really taken off since the 90s. And in many ways, it is good that they have. In a world where children already face so much negativity and discord, placing them in positive environments is critically beneficial. But, if there is one thing I have learned after working with tens of thousands of kids, it is that if we swing the pendulum too far to the “no negative” side, our goals might become lost in translation. Being positive doesn’t mean always saying “yes,” nor does it mean never saying “no.”

First off, every parent should absolutely raise their child in the method that works best for their family – barring abusive or dangerous exceptions. No two parents, children, nor situations are the same, and as adults, we have to adjust our parenting accordingly.

I knew I wanted to live out positive reinforcement with all of the kids in my life. So, when I started a career working with children, I spent countless hours reading and researching the topic. I walked away with the idea that positive parenting meant that I never was allowed to say no. I was so wrong. For example, if I didn’t want a child to watch television, instead of saying, “You can’t watch television,” I should say, “How about you go outside?” And while this is great in principal and works in many situations, excluding negative redirection from your vocabulary removes fundamentally necessary learning opportunities.

Children need to be raised so that they can make good decisions on their own when they are adults without their parents around. In order to make those choices, they need to know the thought process to go through when weighing various options. By simply presenting a positive alternative, adults omit why the negative one is a bad choice. For example, if my child is about to touch a hot stove, I can’t just say, “Touch the fridge instead!” I have to tell him not to touch the stove, and most importantly, I have to explain why he shouldn’t touch the stove. I can then present the good options he can choose, like the fridge, since he only wanted to touch the stove in the first place because it was shiny and magnetic.

This is crucial in sports too. Should a tumbler perform a skill in a way that is dangerous, it is the coaches’ responsibility to tell them they can’t do that and why it is risky and then present the positive alternative: “Don’t land with your legs straight. You could lock your knees and hurt yourself. Land with them bent. It will keep you safe!”

Positive parenting doesn’t mean never saying no. It is rooted in a tone and method that redirects the child to desirable behavior, but many times,  saying no and explaining why is the most important lesson your child might learn that day.

If you have a topic or question you’d like covered or simply want more information, e-mail Patrick Biron at