There are days when I feel like no matter what I ask, say, or do, my kids will respond with a powerful “NO.” As a parent, that word lights a fire inside of me. I feel like I have to defend myself, stand my ground, and not let my child rule the roost. I only want to teach my child when it is appropriate to say no and when not to. 

But, in fighting it, things always turn towards the worst.

My child will cross his arms over his chest, eyebrows furrow, and he sets himself up for a battle any time I try to stand my ground.

It’s as if we have to engage in a full on battle for me to feel like I’m not being walked over.  

kids say no

Ways to teach a child when to say no and when not to.

Failed Attempts

Trust me when I say I’ve tried everything to deal with this stubborn nature of my kids.

Timeouts…those end in massive damage to my child’s room.

Yelling louder than them…I end up losing my voice and everyone walks away in tears.

Ignoring it…I feel inconsistent and like I am favoring the kid who throws the biggest tantrums.

The list could go on an on, and so did my frustration over what to do. That was my story until I discovered the reason behind all these “No”s.

The word NO

No is a way we set boundaries around ourselves, stick up for our thoughts/feelings/and beliefs.

This word “no” is often one of the first 10 words a child learns. Even in the early stages of development, that word gives children a sense of independence from parents and other people around them.

There are three main reasons a sensory child frequently uses the word “No.

  1. “No” is power when power is rarely achieved.
  2. “No” is how they provide predictability in an otherwise unpredictable world.
  3. Saying “no” is typically thought of as a negative gesture and will be used as an act of defiance.

When our kids grow up to be teenagers and adults we WANT them to say no without hesitation and in the right settings.

  • When a friend offers your child drugs
  • When a teenage love wants to take things to the next level and your child isn’t ready
  • When an adult crosses the line

And so many other situations when it is good for a child to know how to say no and feel confident doing it.

In order to raise a child who is confident saying no as a teenager and adult, but knowing when and how to respectfully draw those boundaries, we have to start when they are young.

Yes! I said it, we have to teach our kids when and how to say no in appropriate times. Ironically, the more freedom we give children to say no, the less they will say it. Think about it, if their “no” is respected and understood, they are given the power they seek, they feel independent and confident within the boundaries of the home, they won’t have that need to act out by pushing against us as parents.

How Does A Parent Teach Appropriate “No’s”?

After a lot of reading and research, I’ve found three simple ways to teach a child to respect and create appropriate boundaries in their lives.

1. Just Say No

It is no secret that children learn from our example. If we are constantly bending over backwards for other people to avoid telling them no, wearing ourselves thin, and being irritated about it all day long. Our kids will learn that saying “no” is a negative thing.

With that they will either say “no” out of defiance to us as parents, or will avoid saying no to those they want to please.

The concept is unhealthy for us as parents as well as for our kids, and can be changed by using the word no with respect and firmness, and meaning.

This can happen by saying no to your child and providing an explanation for the “no.” It can also happen by saying “no” to your friend who sucks the life out of you, the TV when you are spending time with your child, and the 15 notifications that come in on your phone during dinner. The more you set clear boundaries and show those to your child, the more they will be able to do that as well.

2. Provide Predictability

If there is one thing children thrive on, it is predictability or knowing what to expect. Waking my son up for school and getting him out the door every morning used to be a battle every day. Until I realized, he just needed to know what to expect so he had the time to prepare himself for the events of that day. The thought of entering into a day he knew nothing about was too much for him to handle and he would fight me every step of the way.

Now we take a few minutes before bed to talk about the events of the next day, I ask him what he thinks about certain things, how he feels about things that will happen, and try to understand where there might be any underlying fears or anxieties.

Predictable routines in the home, schedules, and set expectations are great ways of providing predictability. This way, everyone knows what to expect and don’t have to question when or if something is going to happen. It is one less thing they have to worry about, and in turn, one less thing they feel the need to say “no” to.

3. Give Power Within Your Boundaries-

Everyone needs to feel power sometimes. Children are no different. The more practice they have with handling small doses of power at a young age, the less daunting it will be as they grow up. 

While it is important for kids to have power, it is also important for them to know where the boundaries are. Finding a way to give power within the boundaries you set is a fine balance. Cynthia Tobias, the author of books about strong willed children suggests that parents set the tone by deciding the outcome, and allowing children to decide how to get there.

My favorite way of making that happen is to follow up most statements with an open ended question.

Where I would previously say “hey, pick up your plate and put it in the sink please” (which would typically result in my child immediately telling me no. Now I say “it looks like you’re done with dinner, where does your plate go?”

No is not an easy response to open ended question. Open ended questions allow a child to feel less “forced” and more powerful. So, it is a win for everyone. I decide the process, they decide the outcome.

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Now when I feel like every word out of my kids’ mouth is the word no, I take a step back, change my approach, and follow these steps to keeping it real with the word no.