How to Say No To Your Kids

A mother saying no to her son
August 6, 2017
|   updated:
July 11, 2023

Sometimes, saying no to your kids is the right answer, but for some parents, saying no can be hard. “No” is often met with tantrums, which leads many parents to dodge the answer in the first place. However, children need to hear the word “no” as it helps them better understand decision making. If you’re struggling to say no to your children, take a look at these tips.

Set Limits and Expectations

As a parent, you know that children often throw tantrums over the littlest things. For example, when they ask to stop at a fast food place but you already have dinner planned, a simple “no” can turn into a full-fledged fit.

This is where setting limits and expectations can be a blessing. For example, you may discuss with your children that fast food is something they only get once a month. Or, you might explain to them that you’ll only buy fast food when you’re on vacation.

With these limits set, your children will become used to what’s okay and what isn’t, and therefore, the answer “no” is already expected. The key, however, is to remain consistent with these limits or your children will try to push the boundaries.

As Sara Bean points out on, “your job is to set the limit, not to control how your child feels about it or reacts to it. So focus on what you can control—yourself and how you act.”

Explain Your Reasoning

The word “no” shouldn’t stand alone. Back up your reasoning for saying no. That way, you come off sounding logical rather than plain mean.

Let’s go back to the fast food example. Don’t just tell your kids they get fast food once a month. Clarify why you decided on that time frame. For instance, you might explain that eating out too often is unhealthy for you. Then, go on to explain, in terms that they’ll understand, why that is and why eating at home will help them grow into stronger, healthier adults.

Don’t Automatically Jump to “No”

Your initial reaction to your child’s request may be “no,” but instead of jumping to “no,” have a conversation about it. Ask your children why they need that new toy or snack. If they can formulate a logical, convincing answer, say yes. If not, they know that you’re considering their side and not just dismissing it.

Use Alternatives

The word “no” can lose its meaning over time the more you say it. That’s why it’s generally best to reserve it for dangerous situations. In everyday situations, try an age-appropriate alternative, such as, “Not today,” or, “Let’s try something else.”

Think of Long-Term Goals

One of the main reasons parents give into kids is because they want to diffuse the immediate situation. For example, turning the car around and heading to the drive-thru will ease your children’s cries.

However, you must ask yourself what you want them to learn in the long-run. What lesson are you teaching them in this moment? If you turn the car around, you’re only showing them that inappropriate behavior gets them what they want. How do you think this will affect their experience in taking directions from an employer later in life?

Always ask yourself, “What do I want my child to learn here?” before replying to them.

Don’t Negotiate

As a parent, you need to stand your ground. Negotiating is a good skill to have, but it’s not something you do after you’ve already said no and made up your mind.

That only teaches your children that manipulation works and that when you say no, you don’t truly mean it.

This is also true of children who use flattery or good behavior to get what they want. For example, your teenager might decide to clean the house in exchange for going out Friday night, except if you’ve already said no and you change your mind, they’ve discovered they can manipulate you.

Take Care of Yourself

Saying no to your children is tough, and when they meet you with pleas and cries, it can only frustrate and stress you out. You need to clear your head and ease your stress to cope. Call a friend. Go for a walk. Write in a journal. Do whatever it is you need to do to calm down before you confront your child about the situation again.

The bottom line is that all kids are different. What may work for one child may not work for another. Start by trying these techniques, but adjust your method if you must.

About the Author

Christie Hopkins has personal and professional ties to the Family Law industry. She has extensive experience working with families going through child custody disputes. Christie approached Family Law with attentiveness and care to ensure both parties feel valued and heard.

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