“No Thanks” is not a discipline tool

Sometimes I hear parents and teachers say “no thank you” to children to correct misbehavior – like when a child is shoving or making too much noise and the adult just says “no thank you” in the child’s general direction.

Not only do I find this odd (in my mind I would say “no thank you” to a child who offered me something I didn’t want, like a bite of their soggy cracker), it’s ineffective, because it does not explain to them what they should do instead. Children are left to deduce what might be wrong about what they’re doing and then make the jump to abstract thinking to figure out what else to do. That’s a big leap for three and four year olds!

It’s so much more effective to be explicit with your corrections. If a child is shoving into line, instead of no thank you, say “Jack, please go to the end of the line.” If they’re banging on the table, instead of no thank you, say “Kim, please stop banging, that hurts my ears.” It’s so much easier for a child to behave well when they’re told what that means. I really recommend this approach for adults.

Should kids use “no thank you” in this way?

I know a preschool teacher who taught her students to say “no thank you” when the other children did things they didn’t like. I think that could be appropriate for three year olds who do know when they don’t like something but may have a hard time articulating exactly what it is they don’t like or what they wish the other child would do instead. Saying no thank you is certainly better than shoving the other child. But by four years old, I like to work with kids on more clearly expressing themselves. I might say “Jeff, you look uncomfortable. Can you tell Kira ‘please don’t lean on me during group time – I like to have my own space.’” Or “Shri, you can say to Olga ‘please stop pushing me.’” It’s polite, assertive, and clearly expresses their preferences.

Learn more about how to tell children how to be good. https://gooddayswithkids.com/2014/01/29/telling-what-to-do/


1 thought on ““No Thanks” is not a discipline tool

  1. Beth Hankoff

    I always thought that sounded odd, too! I’m glad I’m not alone. When I was in preschool, we were taught to say, ”I don’t like that” firmly to each other. As I got a little older, we learned to ask each other nicely to stop – especially for unintended behavior. I was teaching my children the same thing, but kept hearing parents say,”No thank you.” I wonder if it came from the idea that positive discipline means you can’t say the word,”No,” so parents added the thank you to soften it? This is another thing that I think is somewhat silly. I raised my kids and taught classes using Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline. But sometimes things happen abruptly and you shout out, “No!” in an effort to stop them. If you are loving and clear about expectations the rest of the time, I don’t think it’s harmful to say. Adding “thank you” to it certainly does not make it more effective.


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