When Is It OK To Say No To Your Child?

Scrolling through Pinterest the other day I noticed a litany of pins that all shared the same theme. “Parenting without saying, No!” After a while, I started to get frustrated. Not only is it OK to say no to your child, it’s essential. Essential to their safety, development, future, well-being, and your own sanity.

5 minutes away from leaving for church on a Sunday morning, and I hear,

“Mom, May I bake a French Baguette?”

“What, Now?”

“Well, yeah!?”

“No. You may not bake a French baguette right now. We are leaving in five minutes. If you don’t have your shoes on and in the car by then, you’ll be going to church barefoot. We’ll talk more about your French baking later.”

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mom and daughter looking at each other while daughter is being held after mom said no to her child

Set Them Up For a Yes

When my oldest child was a toddler, I heard my favorite parenting expert speak. He was talking about how he encouraged his kids to “set themselves up for a yes” before they approached him with a question.

For instance, if his child wanted to spend time with a friend, she should cover all her bases before asking. Assuring him the friends’ parents would be there, providing a phone number, what they’d be doing together, when she’d leave, when she’d be home, all her responsibilities were done, etc. In other words, he encouraged them to get everything in order ahead of time so that he could say yes.

I love this. When my child asks me for a privilege, I don’t want to have to go through a list of, “have you’s?” So they know not to even ask until they’ve finished everything required of them.

Out of 4 kids, I have 2 that are capable of baking a French baguette. (don’t ask why I’m using a French baguette for this example… I have no idea)

However, they are still kids. This means their cognitive ability to process depth-of-time, reasonable expectations, etc, is still developing. How in the world are they suppose to learn that 5 minutes is not enough time to bake pastries, if I don’t tell them, “NO, honey, look at the hands of the clock. The long hand is right here. We are leaving when it gets right here. That is not enough time to bake. So, No, you may not.”

So, When is it OK to Say No to Your Child?

When the answer is no.

Positivity, relentlessness, and hard work are all very important traits to teach a child. So is reality. Day-to-day functioning and truth cannot be thrown out the window if you want your child to thrive as an adult.

If your child asks you something and you know the answer could be yes, but she is going about it all wrong, help her out. Remind her of all the things that you need in order to say yes. Train her how to set herself up for a yes.

Likewise, if your child asks you something and it’s just not going to happen, just say no.

As my first born child has gotten older, I’ve seen more clearly than ever, how important this is. If he asks me for extra time to play a video game and I come up with some elaborate, twisted way of saying yes, when the answer is actually no, it drives him crazy!

He’s told me that getting a straight no, so he can move on with his life feels less burdensome and easier on his heart than “trying to say yes,” when it’s just not going to happen.

Real-life Examples

I understand the need to have tangible, practical, real-life examples to gain a better understanding. So let’s look at the actual wording of a few scenarios as they might play out in your home.

  • 4-year-old child: “Can we read another book?”
    (it’s 20 minutes past bedtime, you’ve already read 3 books and you spent the whole day together)

Mom: “No.”

  • 6-year-old child: “Can we bake cookies together?”

Mom: “I can not do that right this minute, however, that sounds like a lot of fun, and something that would bless both our hearts. So, go look on the calendar and find a day that has nothing on it and we’ll plan it out.”

  • 3-year-old child: “I want the blue cup.”

Mom: “No, the blue cup is dirty. You can use it another time.” (this is where parents get confused. Couldn’t I just wash the blue cup?

Yes, but doing so leaves him lacking patience, perspective, and circumspect. A blue cup is one thing, but throwing a tantrum in the store because you actually said no – and he’s not used to hearing it… is another.

  • 5 year old: “May I jump on the trampoline?” (her room is picked up and she’s had a great attitude all day)

Mom: “YES! Please grab a cookie on your way outside. You’ve shown such great attitude today. Nicely done!”

Real-World Application

There’s so much parenting advice floating around in the parenting-o-sphere! I’ve read a great majority of it.

One way to weed out the good from the bad is to make a real-world application. Sometimes (many times) the answer is just no. Remember Edison’s quote? “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” No, isn’t earth-shattering. No is just no. It is simply what is true and real at that moment.

No is not harsh or mean or scary.

No is what we hear when a loved one is sick and treatment isn’t working.

No is what we hear when there’s not enough money.

No is vital to a child’s understanding of life. It’s essential to her development of empathy. No is what a child needs to keep going and move on when something isn’t working. No is OK.

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