“No”, The Discussion on Negative Language

Keeping a positive learning environment for children at all times is a challenge, for parents and teachers alike. Children don’t have all the answers or know how to behave in every situation, and guiding them through the learning process often comes with some frustration. In these moments, it’s easy to use negative words, like the word “No”.

But is it harmful to a child’s development to use “No”? The discussion on positive vs. negative language has been around for years, and there are interesting insights from both sides on the effects of language on a child’s growth.

How language affects thought

In the early 1950’s, the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis began undergoing close scrutiny from language and psychology experts, and is still being studied today. It states that the structure and word-choice of languages affect one’s perception of the world to some degree. In short, the way one speaks affects the way one thinks.

This concept applies to all languages and to people of all ages, especially children. The capacity to learn is greatest in the early stages of childhood development. Children are most sensitive to words and their meanings, and the effects are lasting.

How this hypothesis applies to word usage with children is a hotly debated subject, which boils down to whether using certain words can either maximize development or hinder it.

Does “No” have an effect on children?

The answer is yes. “No” has as much of an effect on emotional and cognitive growth as any other word. “No” is universal across all languages and has particular influences on children’s perception of the world and themselves.

Using “No”, and other negative words, tends to be immediately impactful for children. Even in the early stages of life, infants analyze facial expressions that belong with certain sounds that their parents make. While negative language can be quite clear, it can also be emotionally compromising. Interestingly though, evidence points to the context of the situation having more of an effect than the word.

When parents are frustrated, “No” and other negative words tend to get used a lot more often.  The use of positive language with children tends to be in a more civil context, thus creating a more learning-conducive environment.

Conclusion for parents on using “No”

The word “No” is not naturally bad. If used with patience, compassion and a learning lesson in mind, “No” can be a helpful tool. However, parents who make the effort to utilize positive language more often don’t have to use “No” as much. Instead of telling their children what not to do, they ask them to do what is right, after showing them what they did was wrong.

Using positive words leads to a more positive learning environment. But if you can exercise patience with your children when teaching them, using “No” is fine. What matters most is having a safe, loving family dynamic and keeping your child’s development in mind.


What does Cranium do?

At Cranium Academy, we devote ourselves to creating a nurturing, warm environment that will help our students reach their full learning potential in the 21st century. Our teachers partner with parents to speak to each child in a way that will foster their emotional, cognitive, and social growth.