07/08/2014 11:52 am ET Updated Sep 07, 2014

How to Say 'NO!' to a Toddler or Young Child

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As a mother, grandmother and teacher of many, many years, I have either read about or learned about or tried just about every suggestion that has ever been made about making boundaries for children. I have tried everything except spankings. I believe that that accomplishes nothing in the realm of sending good messages to children. I have learned that generally, positive approaches work the best, especially with other peoples' children. The problem lies in the fact that all children are basically the same, and all children are specifically different. The task is to determine what approach works the best for your child.

As a parent, it is always simple to dangle the proverbial carrot. "If you want desert, you need to finish eating your meat and vegetables."

Or, "I think it would be nice to spend some special time together on Saturday if your homework is all finished."

There are also natural consequences or what I call "Letting the punishment fit the crime" approach. "I'm sorry you did this to yourself, but when you hit your brother, you have to spend your play time by yourself." Or, "I see you don't want to share your toy, so that means that we will have to give it to your friend to use by herself."

As a parent, you read a variety of books which may tend to confuse you because everyone seems to have alternative ideas. How does a person know which one works the best? You don't know until you try it, but the one thing that is the most important is that the child knows that you mean it and that you are consistent with your words and actions.

When I was teaching elementary school, being consistent was easy. The children simply needed to learn what was OK and what was not OK. If they wanted a chance to win a coupon for no homework or five minutes of extra free time, they had to have a clean behavior record. If they wanted no homework on the weekends, their class work had to be complete on Friday.

Here is the real dilemma for me as a grandmother. When my little grandchild hits me, how do I respond? "I don't like it when you do that!" are the words that come to mind, but when the behavior does not stop, do I put her in her room and close the door? Do I try to reason with her? Do I put her in a thinking chair that she immediately leaves? Do I take a chance of doing it differently than her mother wants me to? All of my learned skills go out the window as I try to do my best. Her mother had a thinking chair in her room to which the door was closed without any discussion. Separating the child was what worked in my day, but now I have been told that I need to stay in the room with her while she is in the thinking chair, and I need to turn my back to her. Somehow that feels like too much attention to me, but I have been told that all of the specialists agree that you should not leave the child alone. How odd... And I always thought that I was one of the specialists! It looks like my education has begun again!