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Alternatives to "No"

As your newly mobile baby finds more and more off-limits objects within her reach, you'll find yourself saying "no" a lot more than you ever thought you would.

"A stern 'no' is the quickest, easiest way to control a situation," says Joshua Feder, M.D., a child psychiatrist in Del Mar, CA. Your child, though, actually responds to your tone, not the word. Most babies don't have won't have the language skills to grasp its meaning until they're around 12 months old, though some understand sooner.

But a harsh tone can startle young children and, in some cases, stifle their natural desire to explore. That's why experts suggest saving "no" for situations of danger. Plus, even babies learn to tune out sounds they don't like. If you use that word too often now, it may just lose its power later on.

A few alternatives to try:

  • Redirect. When you're tempted to blurt out "no," pause to consider what your child's doing and why, suggests Dr. Feder. She may be reaching for a breakable glass because it's shiny. Offer her a bright object instead, like a stainless-steel measuring cup or a child-safe mirror.

  • Use your looks. Babies often glance at a parent for reassurance when trying something new. "To stop unsafe behavior before it even starts, give them a worried or a stern look," says Dr. Feder.

  • Get physical. If your child has suddenly discovered true delight in hitting her brother, gently hold her arms down at her sides for a few seconds. As you do this, you can say  -- in an even tone  -- "Stop hitting" or "That hurts."

  • Model behavior. Rather than simply saying "no" when your child starts to tear a picture book to shreds, show her how to hold it, and look at it with her. You'll not only avoid the N word, you'll teach her how to adapt to new demands.
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