The most valuable parenting phrase after “I love you”

June 3, 2011 · 61 comments

effective discipline takes thought

effective discipline takes thought

I won’t let you . . .

As in, I won’t let you hit your friend. I won’t let you throw food on the floor. I won’t let you fall off the stairs. I won’t let you run around in the grocery store.

This phrase (which I learned from the wise Janet Lansbury), has helped me become the disciplinarian I want to be: in charge, but not controlling; gentle, but firm; honest; clear; and direct.

It makes me own what I tell my children.

What I used to say were things like, “Stop hitting your brother!” or “We don’t throw food on the floor!”. I was giving orders, but no one responds well to being screamed at. When I say, “I won’t let you hit your brother”, I can’t scream it. I have to get down on the floor next to my children, and put my arm up to block the swat. I have to look in their eyes, and show them why I’m asking them to stop.

I have to get involved in their discipline, so they can see what I’m asking of them. I won’t let my boys hit each other because it hurts, and it makes other people unhappy. It’s not an arbitrary rule I made up, and when I own it, my children learn why a rule exists, and why it’s important to me. It becomes part of their intrinsic morality — not a command they have to follow arbitrarily.

It makes me think about why I create a boundary.

If you’ve ever asked your child to do something just because, and they balked, did you think about whether it was a reasonable request? When you tell your child you won’t let them do something, it invites questioning. Not just from them, but from you.

“I won’t let you jump off the couch.” “Why not?”

Are they going to get hurt? Are they going to get something dirty? Will they break something?

These are good reasons to not let a child do something. Saying that we are the reason we don’t allow something forces us to think hard about the boundaries we create. Do they make sense? Is it worth the effort? Is it something I really care about?

Not every rule needs to pass the logic test — sometimes we feel strongly about things just because, and that’s ok. But if you use the phrase “I’m not going to let you . . . .”, you’ll likely reduce the arbitrary rules and find you can distill your discipline efforts to the things that really matter.

It cultivates confidence.

Children test boundaries because they don’t have impulse control and they’re experimenting, and it’s part of growing up. When they test limits set by their parents, they don’t worry they’re breaking the rules of the universe, or angering a bogeyman, or anything equally devastating. They can grow within a safe place, building their confidence and keeping their creative limit-testing healthily intact.

It builds trust.

The absolute best benefit of owning the boundaries we set is that it helps build a relationship with our children. There is no question about where the rules are coming from.

Sometimes the rules may seem burdensome, but children appreciate boundaries. They know they need someone bigger, wiser, and more experienced to keep them safe. When your child knows that you’re the one looking out for them, they trust you. And when you see your children respecting the rules you set, you trust them.

Children need us to be leaders, and the first step is owning our decisions, including the boundaries we set. Saying “I won’t let you” completely transformed my discipline, and the relationship I have with my children.

Do you think it will work for you?

Photo credit: limaoscarjuliet on Flickr

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Erica June 3, 2011

I use this phrase too and I also got it from Janet. I think it works pretty well. I do like it better than the alternatives.


2 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 3, 2011

Erica, I like it a lot better than the alternatives too. For us it just feels more honest, and less condescending than other phrases to tell our kids “no”. I wish I could convey the importance of how to say it as well . . .


3 Beth June 3, 2011

Agreed! What appealed to me was the honesty of it. I feel like it is much more respectful of your child. I think the “we don’t …..” phrases can end up sounding really patronizing. I am looking forward to trying it out!


4 Emily June 3, 2011

I’ve been using that phrase lately, and I love how it makes me think more about what comes out of my mouth. I got tired of hearing myself saying “Don’t” and “Stop” (and eventually “Knock it off!”) and I realized I was saying them so much because what I was saying and doing wasn’t working. I think the phrase “I won’t let you” brings dignity into the conversation, and I can’t wait to hear my son use this empowering phrase for himself when someone challenges his personal boundaries ;)


5 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 3, 2011

Emily, the thought process is exactly why I started using it. More than anything else I’ve used, it makes me really consider what I’m asking, and the boundaries I set up. I love how you bring up the thought of your son using it in the future, too — I think it’s a really important phrase to set personal boundaries, which I definitely want my children to know. “I won’t let you touch me like that” or “I won’t let you treat me like that” are very important, and often diffusing words.


6 Jennifer @ kidoing! June 3, 2011

I love it and am going to try “I won’t let you…” today.


7 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 3, 2011

Jennifer, please let me know how it works out for you!


8 Shirley Rempel June 3, 2011

LOVE this! as a mom to two preschoolers, I love this phrase way better than “don’t”, etc. Thank you!


9 Gina June 3, 2011

Thank you for this. I agree with the idea of owning boundaries & I don’t enjoy hearing myself bark orders. I am going to try this & see how both my child & I respond.


10 Nina Nelson June 3, 2011

Thank you Suchada! I will be definitely trying this phrase out.


11 Rachael June 3, 2011

I LOVE this! I’m a big believer in not using “no”, but I’ve had troubles finding an alternative that would work. I love how this phrase is about both the action that we want to stop AND how we communicate with our children. Thank you for this!


12 Ann June 13, 2011

Just curious why you believe it’s not appropriate to use “no”?


13 Gina Osher @The Twin Coach June 3, 2011

Suchada, this is wonderful! I have a master boundary tester (otherwise known as my 4-year old daughter) & she routinely frustrates the heck out of me. I am going to try this with her & see if it changes our dynamic. Beautiful post!


14 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 3, 2011

Gina, my oldest son is a complete rebel. It’s one of the things I love most about him, but also what I find the most challenging. Of all the things I’ve tried to change his behavior when it needs changing, this phrase has been what stops and makes him think instead of stop and instantly do the opposite. There’s just something about looking in his eyes and letting him know that I’ve created a boundary that diffuses the situation, and allows him to save face and find an appropriate alternative. Please let me know how it works for you!


15 Christy June 3, 2011

I started using this today! I love it – what a way to help keep ourselves in check and an even better way to help us pick our battles. Good one Suchada! :)


16 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 4, 2011

Thanks Christy! Let me know how it works out for you.


17 diane June 4, 2011

As a starting point for limit setting I do like the phrase “I won’t let you..” as it directs the adult to make their words into action.

With all limit setting, a parent needs to evolve as the child does~we can use more words or sometimes none at all, just using action. The “let” really means allow and soon kid do know what is allowed and sometimes just need help on the self control part of it.

After kids know the rules, and know an adult will back up their words with action I think we can drop the “allow” and get more clever to help them get to the next level~ internalizing the rules and helping them stop themselves, or doing the same thing safer.

Back in the old days we found ourselves saying “it worries me” when you…climb on that high wall over cement. We were trying to find a way to point out the issue and help the child see the potential problem. Even that phrase got old and we sounded like a bunch of “worried” adults and that wasn’t really what we wanted to convey. We wanted kids to take notice of the situation and modify themselves if possible in order to be safe and keep others safe.

I do like having only 3 red light rules that my kids for sure know I will stop what I am doing to help them learn. Can’t hurt yourself, can’t hurt others and can’t hurt the environment…everything else goes into the yellow light rules or green light rules. The yellow lights are negotiable or can change given the situation and encourage kids to participate in them. With the child climbing on a wall double their body height over a hard surface I will make suggestions but really wait for the child to think of a way to move the problem from a yellow light to a green light…”what if you hold my hand” “I could put my bike helmet on” “lets move a mat over here” “that wall is shorter.” If kids can’t make that safe, I will, without the “let or allow” wording as they are showing a more mature need.

I must admit now setting limits with autistic type children who also learns the rules fast, less words can do wonders. “find another way” “too high” “do the rules” can help with the over stimulation of too much sound ~many autistic type people over modulate and can take in 10 or 100 fold the amount of information in seconds and work very hard on processing the overload yet still have wants and the need to test their world.


18 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 5, 2011

One of the reasons I like this phrase so much is that it forces me to think critically about what I’m saying. Parenting is so dynamic that having set rules for this or that can get us into a rut (and being fully present all the time is something I struggle with). “I won’t let you” sounds particularly disingenuous if it’s used too much, or carelessly, and it helps me really think about the boundaries I create.


19 Lisa @Granola Catholic June 4, 2011

I love this phrase. I wish I had heard of it earlier when my kids were little. We did set boundaries for our children but I always spoke it terms of expectations. I expect you to behave while we visit Aunt Gertrude. I expect you to be quiet at church, etc. But I think I will add the “I won’t let you …” to my arsenal


20 Jeanne Ohm June 4, 2011

It has a bit of an authoritarian tone, and may feel empowering to you, but I feel it will have the very opposite effect on the child. I, the adult am boss, you are subservent. Would we ever dare to say to an adult, “I won’t let you?” Pulling in the reins with a power statement will lead to rebellion.
I am sure the evolution (or repressed feeling) will lead to, “I won’t let you comb my hair” I won’t let you decide what I should wear, ” ” I won’t let you decide who I should hang around with,” “I won’t let you tell me whose car I can get into.”
The idea of questioning why we are saying something by first saying I won’t let you is valid and perhaps we should be saying it to ourselves so that we can really question why we are not approving of their behavior.
Perhaps then, something a bit more respectful with the intent of gaining respect like, ” I do not like it when you do this and this is why.” “When you throw food on the floor, it sucks for me, because I have to clean it up.” When you jump off the couch and we have not safely cleared away tables and lamps, if you get hurt that sucks for both of us.”

I find that at about 3-4 years old, kids can understand this line of thinking. If toddlers are “misbehaving” in these ways, they are following an innate impulse and that just needs to be looked at.


21 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 4, 2011

Jeanne, I always appreciate your perspective. I think tone has a lot to do with this, and also context. I use this phrase in a protective way as well — like if my son is climbing high on a play structure, and seems unsure of himself, I will say, “I’ll put my hand here so you don’t get hurt. I won’t let you fall”. For me the phrase is about creating boundaries — which can be seen in many different ways — positive, negative, neutral — depending on what the boundary is and the mood of my child. The first “won’t” examples a child might say back to me actually sound positive to me — I want to respect my child’s right to do their own hair or choose their own clothes. The last two are scary, but I feel would be born of much deeper relationship issues than semantics. As I wrote to Emily before, I want my children to know how to set boundaries for themselves, and I think the best way to do it is to show that it’s possible without shaming, punishing, or belittling.


22 Jespren June 4, 2011

I like this, and I see the appeal, and given the correct situation I may even use it. But, for me, I think it sends a slightly incorrect message. Because, likelihood is, I’m not going to physically keep them from doing something (baring hitting or things with a high risk of serious injury). I want my kids to learn two over reaching things about my rules 1) parents make rules for your benefit to protect you and 2) there will be consequences if you don’t follow them. I believe even a young child can master free will and self control. To me saying ‘i won’t let’ is extremely similiar to ‘you don’t have to use your self control because I will intervien and force the issue’. I prefer if/then type phrases: if you leave the play area again, then we are going home; calm down or you’ll have to go to your room; do not hit or you will get a spanking. It fosters exactly the thought process I am looking for, for my child to weight consequences verses wants and force himself to use self control. The balance, especially with young children, is to not give them more than they can chew. Their ability to express self control and free will grow with age, and I always want to push that ability, but not overwelm it. Asking of him more than he is capable is just going to frustrate him. Obviously the weighted judgements my child is capable of is likely different than another kid his age. But consistancy and age appropriate options and consequences grow confident children who know they are responsible for their own behavior, no one else is going to make them behave, and no one else is going to bear the consequences for them either. I don’t really care if they understand the minutia of why I tell them to do or not to do a thing, (of course I’ll be happy to expain if they ask in an appropriate time) I want them to rather trust that what I tell them has a reason whether they understand it or not, and the consquences for not obeying will outweigh any preceived fun/retaliation/reward of disobeying. That way when I shout ‘no!’, ‘stop!’, or any other emergency command (and as they get older should I give them unexpected and/or unexplained instructions) they have both the knowledge and ability to immediately enact the self-control necessary to obey.


23 Jasmine June 4, 2011

do not hit or you will get a spanking? seems counterproductive,


24 Jespren June 30, 2011

sorry it took so long, reply got lost in my inbox…
No, not at all. Punishment is not a bad word, it is a good thing, it not only teaches you ‘that was a mistake’ but properly administered it’s a deterent to future misbehavings. But punishment must fit the crime or it’s useless. Too little and it’s pointless, punitive without being a deterent. Too much and it’s abusive. If you get stopped by a cop for speeding, you get a ticket, hopefully both the embarrassment and fine is enough to keep you from speeding again. But if a screaming man is running with gun draw towards people the cop doesn’t whip out the ticket book, no, he pulls out his gun and yells ‘drop the gun or I’ll shoot!’ And if he doesn’t drop the gun he will get shot. Nobody says ‘oh that doesn’t make sense you can’t tell the guy not to shoot by threatening to shoot!’ No, they realize it is imparative to meet the breaking of the law with appropriate force. Just like an endless string of warnings won’t keep someone from speeding, a ticket isn’t going to stop a charging assaliant, neither is a baton.
Now, my son is two, the most dangerous thing he can do is hit or bite his 1 yr old sister. He knows he’s not supposed to do it, he’s been fairly warned of the consequences. If that’s not enough to stop him I will, logically, consistantly, and most of all properly, meet force to force and dole out appropriate punishment so it is both punative and a deterinent. It isn’t any more ‘counterintuitive’ than any other punishment we deal with on a daily basis. If you take $ you will be forced to give it back, if you take items you will be forced to repay their worth, if you take someone’s freedom, your’s will be taken, if you take someone’s life, your’s will be taken. If you haul off and clobber somone in a bar, they’re going to get hit back.
My daughter is too young to haul off and smack her brother back if he hits her, so *I* will provide the proper deterent to not. Do. That. Again.


25 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 5, 2011

Jespren, I almost always use “if then” after “I won’t let you”. It’s very important to me that the “then” isn’t a punishment though, and it’s a fine line that’s conveyed with tone and body language. I don’t want the consequence to be a threat or shaming — I just want it to be a boundary. There are so many different ways to say “I won’t let you leave the park. If you climb the wall, then we’re going home”. It’s important to me that I say the words quietly and respectfully — not yelled across the park to embarrass my children, and not threatening them so they’re “in trouble”. It’s those distinctions that make the difference in the relationship we have with our children.


26 Hillary June 4, 2011

The only time I would (and do) use this phrase is when they are physically hurting someone for some of the same reasons already brought up. Physical violence or real danger is the only place I would intervene with absolute authority.

Otherwise I would use other language or for the younger set distract or guide.

Happy to find this blog!


27 Miven Trageser June 4, 2011

This phrase is a great relief from the “We don’t do X,” which always sounds false and condescending to me. I agree that it’s often best used when there is something truly harmful going on that the adult will literally prevent. I wonder if the people who thought it was overly controlling were picturing it being overused from across a room, like “I won’t let you use the markers now.”


28 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 5, 2011

I agree, Miven, it would be ridiculous to use it in that way. I’m glad there’s been so much discussion to clarify — it’s impossible to distill a discipline philosophy in under 800 words :)


29 Sylvia@MaMammalia June 4, 2011

Jeanne Ohm made some interesting points on this issue about explaining the WHY behind the boundary, instead of simply enforcing it. Providing reasoning to a child is an act of respect, and it forces parents to examine the necessity for the boundary (just like “I won’t let you”). Backing up these words with actions gives it even more power (in the same way as “I won’t let you”). This has been my general strategy and it works well with my now 18MO son. He gets that when I say “Please don’t…” it’s because I am concerned for his safety or the well-being of another person, animal, or object. He has learned that my boundaries are not about control, they are about showing respect for people, animals, and objects.

The only time I’ve tried saying “I won’t let you” is after “Please don’t…” hasn’t worked. It’s especially good for unsafe situations and boundaries that my son likes to retest. I might try using it the first time (instead of “please don’t”) to see how it works. It’s good to have a full tool-box!


30 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 5, 2011

Sylvia, absolutely. Simply saying “I won’t let you” and leaving it at that doesn’t provide the insight for a parent or a child.


31 Dena June 5, 2011

Thanks for sharing this. I am just learning about discipline with my one year old and this sounds like a great thing to try. I love these kind of practical tips.


32 Dena T June 5, 2011

I worked in Alternative Education and the phrase we always used was the very neutral “X is hurtful/not allowed/not okay” and “We don’t X”. But when I became a parent, I experienced these phrases in a different way. I felt that they were too condescending, too open ended (We don’t X? Well I do!) and did not own up to the fact that I AM THE ADULT and I must own that!

When I discovered RIE and Janet’s suggestions, it took me a bit of time to wrap the phrase “I won’t let/allow X”, but as I tried it out with my own child, I saw how it affected our relationship for the better. Using a neutral, calm, non-judgmental tone, “I won’t allow you to X” leaves no ambiguity, no wiggle room, which is what I believe children crave. In every relationship – be it mother-child, husband-wife, friend-friend – clarity and transparency always breed trust, security, and respect in contrast to the word games that can be played with children (and consequently lead to distrust and lack of respect and security).

Again, looking at the complete context – it is a phrase that is successful when said without judgment, without power struggle, without ambiguity. It is said matter of factly – neutrally (watch your facial expressions too!!!) – and sets what I believe to be a wonderful example for children, which is ownership of our roles in our relationships.

I think that people are afraid of infringing upon children’s right to experiential learning and freedom, in response to the way perhaps many of us parents were raised. However, we must be careful not to abandon our children discipline-wise. It’s a balance of restraint and action, authority and allowance, and I do not think that these qualities are mutually exclusive.

Thank you for sharing this. Love your blog, and love that you give Janet exposure in the “natural parenting” realm! It’s time to bring balance to early education.


33 Suchada @ Mama Eve June 5, 2011

Dena, thanks so much for your kind words. I love your clarification of how the phrase works. I was honestly surprised at the amount of controversy it generated in some forums, because my children responded so well to it (as did our relationship!). I struggle with discipline because I know I didn’t want to do what I grew up with, but I wasn’t sure how to implement something effective. I started off with lots of distraction and giving my children too much leeway, and I found that made them less confident — because it wasn’t clear what was appropriate and what wasn’t.

You’re so right that balance is what it’s all about!


34 Claire June 5, 2011

I’m a big fan of “you will not” or I put a positive spin on it and say “you need to…”


35 Epiphius June 5, 2011

I think the approach is the important part. The words are important, but if you’re respectful and thoughtful in the approach, that seems to make the most difference.


36 Erynne June 13, 2011

I will have to try this. My 26-month-old is a very spirited, energetic, determined person… and there are times when that friggin SUCKS. I get tired of saying, “We don’t hit/We don’t fork the dogs/We don’t ride the rose bush like it’s a horse/We don’t [insert creative and strange toddler activity]” and getting nothing from him. I will definitely try this out tomorrow and see if we can make it through the day without Mommy losing her schmidt.


37 Bethany August 25, 2011

I recently went back to the family daycare that I worked at for two years. A just 2 year old girl was taking sand out of the sandbox and dumping it onto the baby blanket. I walked over to her and said, “We don’t dump the sand on the baby blanket, go dump it in the bucket.” She looked at me and slowly started to dump her cup of sand towards the blanket again. Then, I remembered all that Magda and Janet (I found you’re blog via Janet’s) have said and I calmly and firmly held her hand and the cup in it and said “I won’t let you dump the sand here, you can dump it in the sandbox.” She again looked at me, as if thinking if I was serious and then walked over to the sandbox and made a show of how she could dump the sand there. It was amazing to see how that simple phrase works, even with children you do not know!


38 Amanda April 16, 2012

I’ve been using this phrase lately, too, and I think it’s excellent. My primary reason for liking it, similar to you, is that it makes ME think about what MY role is. If my son is throwing food on the floor (somehow this is the #1 case where discipline is needed in my house), I used to say a number of things:

“No, please.”
“Please don’t throw food on the floor.”
“We don’t throw food on the floor.”
“I don’t want you to throw food on the floor.”
“Food is for your mouth.” Etc.

The problem with these phrases is, to me, mostly what they suggest that I will do…which is nothing. When saying them, I find myself sitting at the table watching as he throws food on the floor, and working hard not to sigh. I don’t get angry because he’s little and I don’t believe in punitive discipline and I’m just not an angry type of person…but it just wasn’t doing much!

On the other hand, if I say, “I won’t let you throw your food,” and he doesn’t comply, I automatically follow through, usually by simply taking the food away. Miraculously, this seems to work, and then when I give the food back, it generally stays off the floor (though the child loves to pretend to throw it with a twinkle in his eye and say “No floor!”). I think the phrase is just much less arbitrary (“We don’t throw food”? Ummm…yes we do, mom!) and makes it simple to see how to follow through as the parent.

Thanks for this very illuminating post!


39 Nicole Sinclair October 10, 2012

Just had a conversation on last evening abt. this post. Gentle discipline, vs. “because I said so” discipline. Gentle wins hands down.


40 JDaniel4's Mom October 10, 2012

I don’t know how many times I have said, ” I am your mom and this is what your mom needs to do.” I am JDaniel’s mom and I know I need to teach him boundaries. It is hard and tiring, but so is anything you do well.


41 Susan C October 17, 2012

I’m coming to this post very late, but Janet Lansbury linked it and I’m glad she did. I wanted to ask you the same as I asked her: My almost 3 year old (well be 3 in 3 weeks) likes to shush us or tell us “don’t say” or “don’t do” something or various other phrases along those lines especially when she doesn’t like what we are telling her. It can be for something as mundane as not letting her play with my phone to more serious things like not letting her run into the street or through a parking lot. I realize she’s 3 and their job is to challenge us and test the limits. But my question is actually what do I say/do AFTER “I won’t let you shush me” ? Because when I say that to her she (surprise) shushes me! I’m really at a loss as to the best next step from there.



42 Suchada @ Mama Eve October 17, 2012

Hi Susan! I’m going to answer this before I head over and see what Janet wrote because I don’t want to “cheat” :)

My first thought is that “I won’t let you” probably isn’t the right response to her shushing you. You can’t control what she says to you, and she can’t control what you say to her. There really is no “I won’t let you” that can figure into it for either of you.

My children occasionally shush me or tell me they want me to stop talking, and I use it either as an opportunity to explore why, or if it’s a case of them not wanting me to have a conversation with someone else, tell them that I will finish my conversation and then give my attention to them. So if my child says “shush!” to something I’ve said to them, I’ll usually repeat what they’ve said, “You want me to stop talking?” or “You didn’t like what I said?” and try and figure out the feelings behind it. Sometimes they just want to say it for the sake of saying it, and that’s the end of it. Sometimes it’s because they want something (a cuddle, a snack, a toy). If they shush me because they don’t want me to finish a conversation with someone else, I evaluate what my best option is — to turn my attention immediately to them (sometimes all they want is something out of their reach and I can go on to have a much longer conversation), or if I’m just finishing up what I’m saying and can quickly give my attention to them. Or sometimes they just need to wait. But I always let them know, regardless.

If the shushing is a reaction to an “I won’t let you”, well, we can’t control their reactions. We can reflect back to them, “You don’t like it that I won’t let you take my phone/run into the street” and give them an opportunity to express that, but it’s normal to be upset at limits and want to push them – but it doesn’t change what we do as parents.

I hope this is helpful — let me know how it goes!


43 Susan C October 17, 2012

Thanks for the quick reply. Somedays I feel like I’m in that old “who’s on first” comedy routine with the shushing! I like your suggestion of saying “you want me to stop talking?” or “you didn’t like what I said?” things along those lines. I will definitely use this and see how it goes. Parenting is definitely an adventure and I am so thankful for sites and blogs like yours and Janet’s!


44 Suchada @ Mama Eve October 17, 2012

LOL sometimes I feel like my whole life is a comedy routine :) I’m glad you see parenting as an adventure — sometimes we all need a refresher on that perspective :)


45 Jane October 17, 2012

As I read this, I was thinking, “This is like, ‘I hit you because I love you.’” Only it’s ‘I control you because I love you.’ It’s grooming them for a controlling spouse.

These words are candy to the sub in me. The pet that seeks to be controlled and freed from decision-making and responsibility. This is not acceptable language for someone you want to be able to care for themselves and make their own choices.

People have to be responsible for their own behavior. If you “won’t let them” then they are free from that responsibility–they are free from thinking for themselves. You says it’s not controlling: it is. It is the DEFINITION of controlling. I would look for a master/dom/top that used this phrase, were I still in the Scene.

You’re talking about her reasons, but I don’t see you telling your children the reasons. You are taking away their autonomy. You are taking away their power and choices and putting them in your own hands.

As someone who’s studied the Scene and abusive/controlling relationships for quite a while as well as child psychology, I can’t disagree with this more. It is inhibiting, demeaning and dehumanizing. It is the opposite of respectful parenting.

I prefer, “That is not safe.” or “That is not respectful/socially acceptable” or whatever. I explain why something is not okay. And when my daughter is lecturing her sister on not doing something–she explains why it isn’t good. She explains why SHE doesn’t do it. So, I’ll keep that up.

Hitting brother: “Everyone feels pain. It is wrong to cause someone pain, just like it is wrong for someone to cause you pain.”

The list goes on.


46 Suchada @ Mama Eve October 18, 2012

Words, phrases, and actions can all be used with different intentions. I’ve said, “I hate you” to my husband with a twinkle in my eye and laughter on my lips after he’s played a practical joke on me. I’ve heard, “I love you” said with the intent to manipulate. I’ve even watched a mother angrily breastfeed her child, holding her harshly on her lap and shoving her breast in her mouth because she wanted her to stop running around and be quiet.

Of course, “I won’t let you” can be used in a controlling way, but so can the phrases you suggest — I’ve used those in a way to try and manipulate my son to stop what he’s doing. There is no magic phrase that makes someone an intentional parent without a desire to control. I think any parent wants to control sometimes (there are moments when I wish my boys would just put their shoes on and get in the car!!), but I wrote this with the heart of a parent who wants to set boundaries and keep my children safe while I guide them. If “I won’t let you” is used in a vacuum, without love, without guidance, and without explanations at an appropriate time, then no, it wouldn’t be effective. But used with a gentle guiding heart and an intention to guide, it’s not about control.


47 Lulu November 13, 2012

Also reading this quite late but came via Janet`s blog which I often to refer to especially when I feel myself losing control as a parent. I find rereading things I know to work and things that make me want to parent better helps me to get a good night sleep and prepare for the next day with my two toddlers {3 in December & 2 in January}

I use “I won`t let you…” and “if….then…” a lot but I struggle when I am preparing food, especially dinner, or trying to hold a conversation on skype with my mother or family in Australia {I live in Japan but am originally from Australia}. Tonight, during a 12 minute conversation with my sister-in-law after dinner but before bath {so they were not hungry} they completely trash the living room pulling toys out of everywhere, cushions off the sofa, pushing baskets and their small stools around the floor as pretend cars. Several times I told my SIL I would be right back and would walk out of the kitchen {open plan so I can see them} and ask them to sit down and play lego or with other toys and to keep the seats under the table and the cushions on the chairs. I picked up the cushions and put back the chairs but left the toys.

Sometimes I will say “If you continue to make big messes then I will have to say goodbye to_________and that will make me sad because I don`t get to speak to them often” . My kids are usually not interested in speaking with whoever it is for more than 30 seconds to 1 minute and they don`t do this kind of stuff at other times as they know it is unnacceptable to me.

I don`t beleive I can say “I won`t let you….” in this situation because they have already done the damage and if I want to continue with the conversation then I will be “letting” them do what they are doing…

I know they are doing this as a cry for attention but I really feel like I am and have given them lots of positive attention throughout the day. If I just had the one child or if they were both a bit older then I would involve them more in the kitchen {and they do help me bake on occasion and at least once or twice a week they help prepare their own sandwiches of snacks} or if it was during a skype chat like tonight then I would sit at the table with the laptop and have them sit beside me with stickers or coloring. With both of them it is hard.

Before I called her back {she called during dinner and we spoke for 1 minute but I cut the conversation short and told her I would call her back because I could see it ending in disaster with food everywhere if I was not “present” during dinner} I opened the duplo {and the rest of the living room was clear because we cleaned it all up before dinner} and said “can you play lego together nicely while I talk to auntie? If you want to come say hello you can come to the kitchen or you can sit here and play lego.”

I just get so frustrated and then later resentful and it makes me feel terrible. I find myself making threats {and not in a calm voice either} like “If you can`t let me talk for 5 minutes and play nicely then it will be straight to bed after bath” and the older toddler will yell “no bed. no bed. no bed” and then try to make the younger one behave but will often use force to do so which is a whole other issue.

A lot of the positive parenting techniques work for me and my family, especially with my older son. My younger one definitely does not listen or want to listen as much as my older one did at the same age but we suspect he might have processing issues due to being premature {and also having two languages}


48 Helen October 3, 2013

I won’t let you cause hurt/offence to others, I will therefore address the issue/restrain you/contain you until you are able to control your behaviour yourself …. as you/the child regains control of their behaviour my direct control recedes, ultimately they should have self-control and in most cases a verbal reminder of “I won’t let you …” is enough to kick their self-control into action. They will have more and more autonomy, and hopefully with it more and more self-control and consideration for others! as they grow and I feel that as long as the amount of control I exert is at the minimum possible level at all times, with the aim always being that they are making the appropriate choices themselves, without coercion, then I do what is necessary to keep everyone safe – and explain why I am prepared to put myself between them and the consequence fo their behaviour.

We also work on a sliding scale of control, based on The Amazing Five Point Scale, and drawn up for my elder boy who has High Functioning Autism though both my boys have the extremes of emotions and opinions that make considering others a challenge.

At 1, top of the list, we have Self-control, this is where we aim to be, self-regulating behaviour.
2 and 3 are Voice-control, from the word or two called across to them as a reminder to engaging them in a face-to-face conversation about my concerns.
4 and 5 are Holding-contol, from holding their hand and walking with them, keeping them by my side or staying by their side as they navigate a situation to the extreme of containing them within my arms and holding the flailing limbs down so that no-one gets hurt.

That happens more often than I would like but the most important aspect of it, for me, is that after I have restrained them and gradually released them – sometimes several times if hitting out has occurred again . after those strong feelings have dissipated, almost every time the boy turns and cuddles into my chest for comfort. In a way I have ti laugh because they have just negotiated their way out of being held and the first thing they do with their freedom is to climb back into the protection of my body for comfort! However it does show that some part of them appreciates the physical boundary I give them against the extremes of inconsiderate or offensive behaviour and that I will contain them when they cannot yet control themselves.

Both boys will say to me, “It’s OK, Mummy, I got control now …” Or, for that matter “I need you to stay with me right now” “I need you help me with my words”

It has surprised me how much they appreciate boundaries being set and held firm for them. That they want someone to protect the world from the strong feelings they are battling with until they have learnt to manage those feelings themselves.


I love to hear your thoughts. Please, join the conversation!

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