03/14/2013 01:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Getting Your 'No' Right: Pamela Druckerman's Tips For Being The Boss

This post is part of Stress-Less Parenting Club's first workshop. Check out previous challenges here, and if you haven’t signed up yet, go to the purple box on the right side of this page to receive our weekly newsletter.

Do you have days when you feel like every word you say to your child is "no"? The more you say it, the more futile it feels. It's like a mantra lost in translation, instead of a little word with big power.

As Pamela Druckerman writes in her latest blog post, "when it comes to parental authority, we Americans could take some more lessons from the French." This includes, as she calls it, "getting your no right" to make sure it holds the weight it should.

To close out her Stress-Less Parenting workshop, Pamela offers three keys to being the boss and a fun challenge to put this week's lesson into practice:


Say “No” with Conviction
The French didn’t invent non. But they’re especially good at saying it. They don’t worry that blocking a child will limit his creativity or crush his spirit. They believe that kids blossom best inside limits, and that it’s reassuring to know that a grown-up is steering the ship. The French non is convincing partly because parents don’t say it constantly. They believe that a few strategically administered nos have a better chance of registering with kids than a blizzard of them. They’re consistently strict about a few key things. But the real secret is the unambivalent delivery. Kids can tell when you really mean no and you won’t back down. You don’t have to shout it. Just look directly at the child, kneeling down if you have to, and explain the rule with calm confidence. This takes some practice. When you get your no right, you’ll feel it. You won’t just sound more authoritative to your child; you will actually believe yourself to be the boss.

Say “Yes” as Often as You Can
The French believe that another key to having authority with your child is to say yes as often as you can. (One expert points out that authority has the same root as authorize.) It takes some recalibrating to make your default answer become yes. But doing this has a calming effect. The child feels more respected, and she gets to satisfy her need to do things for herself. Of course, total freedom would be overwhelming. The ideal French scenario is that the child asks permission to do something, and the parent grants it.

This word comes up a lot in France when it comes to dealing with upset or cranky kids of all ages. The idea is that you should drain some intensity from conflictual moments by responding calmly to them, or lightening the mood with a joke. Avoid castigating your child in front of others. One French mom told me she suspected that her teenage daughter was smoking cigarettes during a sleepover, but she waited until the friend left the next morning before mentioning it. “If you make a scene, your child will stop talking to you,” she explained. Aim to have authority without losing your connection with the child. If you’re so angry that you need time to cool off, say so. “I don’t think the world of children is so far from the world of adults. They’re capable of understanding everything,” this mom said.


Do the "big eyes."

Before saying "no," try giving your child a "disapproving, owl-like look that serves as a warning" Pamela advises. "It means that you saw what she did, and she should watch her step."

What works well for you in asserting your authority as a parent? How well does "no" work for you, and what have you tried as an alternative? As you think about this week's keys, we also invite you to leave thoughts and advice in the comments.

The three keys are excerpted from Bébé Day by Day by Pamela Druckerman. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright Pamela Druckerman, 2013.