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Does Your Child Understand “No”?

A Swiss psychologist by the name of Jean Piaget was dedicated to understanding and sharing his findings on child development, and thus the best means of education. Interestingly, he found that children under the age of four (or around this age - every child is on their own timeline) do not have the developmental brain capacity to understand the concept of “no.” This is an abstract concept and goes against what their development is telling them to do, which is to explore the world and experiment while gaining independence. You may be thinking that your young child knows when you do not want them to do something, such as pull the cat’s tail. However, their idea of this is much different than your idea. These young children lack self-control and judgment and do not understand cause and effect. 

This is exactly why it is so important to use positive discipline methods of Kindness AND Firmness and encourage children that it is ok to make mistakes and learn from them. Curiosity questions are also an amazing tool in not placing blame or shame but rather helping the child work through their thoughts. “What did you notice happening? Is that what you expected? Why do you think this happened? What do you want to try next time?”  

So, as you shift your expectations of your young child and help them along their journey of experimenting with learning cause and effect, here are some other ways to say “no:”

  • Validate feelings (and then allow the child to have them without trying to fix or rescue them).

  • Suggest that the child put the request on the family meeting agenda to get everyone’s ideas.

  • Suggest scheduling a time to brainstorm with the child on how to achieve what he or she wants.

  • Ask the child what he or she can do. (How much money will you need to save to get that?)

  • Say, “I have faith in you to figure out how to achieve that goal.”

  • Say, “Yes, as soon as _______.”

  • Follow through.  (What was our agreement?)

  • Use ‘the look’ with humor.  (“Nice try”) Enjoy the video below to see how a young child  perceives and interprets their world:  


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