Three Ways I Say “No” Without Saying “No” to Prevent Temper Tantrums

Confession: Before kids, I used to judge a mom if their toddler was throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a store.

My thoughts would range from “Wow, that kid has no self control” to “Why won’t that mom console her kid and make him stop crying?” Three kids later, I get it.

The simple two-letter word “no” can easily transform my sweet little sidekick into the Tasmanian Devil who threatens to tear apart every shelf in Target.

As moms, we need to stand our ground when necessary, but sometimes the situation calls for a softer let down than usual. The next time you are in the middle of Target and see your child’s fists balling and a melt down seconds away, try saying “no” without saying “no” with one of my three go-to strategies.

1. “The List”

My mother-in-law taught me this trick. When raising my husband, she kept a notebook in her purse that kept “The List.” If one of her children wanted a toy, game or something special while out and about, she would add it to their wishlist. That way, her children saw her actively acknowledging what they wanted even if she wasn’t buying it for them right then and there. The list was a record of things they really wanted and that could be shared for birthdays and holidays with family and friends. I have used this trick multiple times now and have had great luck! The possibility of ONE DAY owning that toy or game seems to put their mind at ease.

Example:

  • Kid: Mommy, look at that Spiderman video game! I want it.
  • Mom: Oh, you love Spiderman, Luke!
  • Kid: I want it! I want it!
  • Mom: Sorry, Luke, not today. We’re looking for a gift for your friend’s birthday party.
  • Kid: I want it! I want it! I need it!
  • Mom: Ok, you really want this. How about we write it down on your wishlist? That way I can tell Grandpa and Grandma how much you love this Spiderman game!

2. Exaggeration

I don’t know about you, but my kids laugh when I stub my toe or when my husband drops something. Laughing has a way of connecting and lessening tension. Humor combined with exaggeration has a way of calming my child down and putting a smile on their face. Throw misdirection into the mix and you’ll have your child wondering why she was even crying in the first place. 

Example:

  • Toddler: Mom, I really, really want an ice cream.
  • Mom: I’m sorry, Lucy. It’s time to eat lunch, not ice cream.
  • Toddler: I want ice cream now!
  • Mom: If it weren’t lunch time, I would buy you 100 ice creams. No, 200 ice creams!
  • Toddler: No, 300 ice creams!
  • Mom: That’s crazy! 300 is soooo many! Could you eat 300 grapes with your lunch?

3. Schedule the “Yes”

Sometimes it’s not that I don’t want to say “yes,” it’s just that I can’t right then. In those instances, I set a date with my child on when I can fulfill their request. I find that when my toddler has a time or event to look forward to, she is less likely to put up a fight when I say “No, not right now.”

Example:

  • Child: Can you paint my nails?
  • Mom: I can’t. We are running late for school.
  • Child: I want my nails to match my pretty dress!
  • Mom: Your dress is really pretty today! What colors would you do? Go pick the nail polish that matches your dress and put it by the back door. That way it can be the first thing we do when we get home.

I can’t promise that it always works, but these strategies have been great to have in our parenting toolkit. 

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