NO! How Do You Deal with "NO"?
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
April 2011
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
April 2011
"No! Wrong!                                   "

The way I look at this, there are two issues with "NO."  
  1. Telling a child, or anyone that they can't do something. 
  2. Responding to a question with a wrong answer.
In regards to not being allowed to do something, sometimes it is for the safety of the child, sometimes it's for the sanity of the adult, and sometimes someone is just being mean and/or petty.

We'll ignore mean and petty today, and save them for another day.

Regarding "NO" : Use this sparingly.  You want inquisitive minds and you want your kids to explore and to take calculated, relatively safe risks.  This is how they learn and create.  Boundaries and options are better than, "NO." Say for example, "no, you can't go outside now, it's late and time for bath and then bed... but, you can pretend you are Ishmael hunting a great white whale in the bath tub!"

Regarding "No, Wrong":  Giving an incorrect response can actually be GOOD.
First, "No, WRONG" can be harsh, painful words - and again, you want your kids to want to explore options and take risks.  Too many "no, wrong"'s can discourage creative thinking and going out on intellectual limbs, and so many times there are many perspectives to an issue.  Too many "wrong"s can easily discourage kids from voicing opinions when there are multiple ways of responding.

Second, a wrong answer (in my opinion), is ever so much better than no answer.  With a wrong answer, our kids are at least engaged in learning.  They are trying to sort, consolidate, manipulate data and information.  With a wrong answer you have the opportunity of exploring the world from another perspective. No response is no risk.  No response is no learning.  This clip from Billy Madison, is funny in the movie, but no one likes hearing that their responses made everyone stupider for listening to them.
Be you parent, grandparent, responsible 'other' or educator - take advantage of the wrong answer and open up new worlds!

How do you deal with saying "No" or "No, wrong answer"?
  • Reinforce your child's responding.
  • If you say "no" because of safety issues, explain the ramifications. Explain that they could get hurt or that there is no time for that activity but they may want to do something that takes less time.
  • Provide alternatives:  Provide more appropriate alternative options if you have to say "no" and provide alternative perspectives if an answer is incorrect.
  • If a response is wrong, instead of a "no" ask if they've thought of the problem from a different perspective. 
I remember one of my students, for example, said that kids with learning disabilities are not smart.  This is clearly a response that has to be dealt with as it is clearly not true.  In fairness to this student, I must say that he had just moved to the States from Hong Kong and there were definitely cultural factors involved. But, that said, his response had to be addressed.

Instead of saying, "no, you're wrong," I asked him if thought Einstein was not smart.  When the student responded "no, he was brilliant" I then told him that Einstein had learning disabilities and added that learning disabilities means people process information and learn differently.  They see the world differently, and in Einstein's case this helped him discover many properties others had not seen.  This then led to a discussion on perspective, on different ways to study for tests, and different ways of solving problems, and the class discussed how they tackled the same problems differently.  It led to self awareness as well as to greater respect for others.  It also helped validate their own idiosyncracies and relieve many of their own insecurities with class material.

What happens when the wrong answer is funny?

 We all know kids say the darndest things and sometimes they are so serious and so proud of their answers, and we can't help but laugh.  When they're young,  a laugh with a side of love and a hug can be reinforcing. The love and a hug aren't always as effective with an older child.  With them, after the inevitable, unavoidable laugh or chuckle, I would still opt for the hug, and then get serious, validate the try, and discuss what went wrong.

The point is that wrong answers (aside from sometimes being entertaining), are jumping off points for learning.  Take advantage of them.  Talk about them - why the wrong answer was initially given, what merits are there to that answer, why is it wrong, how can you find a better answer?

Please let me know how you handle "no" or wrong answers. 

Let's be friends

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