No Means No

As a parent, you decide what happens in your childrens' lives. But what if every decision elicits an argument? How do you say "no" and make it stick? Mighty Mommy has 3 tips to teach your kids that "no means no"

Cheryl Butler
3-minute read

No Means No

I credit my parents for my strong desire to teach my own kids the important lesson of “no means no.” They were both school teachers, loved being with children, and were very creative with many aspects of our upbringing. But they also knew that we needed structure and limits, so right from the beginning we learned that “no” meant “no,” and not “maybe” or "I'll think about it." 

Here are 3 tried and true strategies we use in our household when saying “no” to one of our 8 kids (ages 6 - 19): 

Tip #1: Lay the Groundwork When Things Are Going Smoothly

Depending on your child’s age and what the situation might be in which you have to say “no,” we have had great success by having preemptive conversations—at their level—in which we discuss things before there’s any friction. 

For example: If you know you’re going to take the kids food shopping that afternoon, sit down before you leave for the store and let them know that they’ll be going to the store with you. Make it clear that you have a specific list of items you’ll be buying and no extra money in the budget for trying out the latest brand of cereal they saw on TV. Tell them there won’t be any items purchased at the check-out lane, regardless of how tempting that triple berry bubblegum might look at the time. 

So when the colorful cereal aisle beckons, you can simply refer to your earlier conversation and remind them that you agreed there was going to be no food or gum sampling today.

Tip #2: Ignore Backtalk

Once you’ve said “no,” you will undoubtedly be faced with an unhappy child who will  

a) make snide comments under his breath.

b) make snooty faces.

c) talk back to you about why you are wrong and why he should be allowed to go to the R-rated movie like the rest of his friends.

d) all of the above.

When this happens, calmly explain the reasons for your decision. And be specific. Rather than just saying “because I said so,” explain what it is about the movie or the food that you feel is inappropriate. And then hold your ground.

Firmly but pleasantly say “I’m sorry, I’m not going to discuss this any further” and walk away. It’s not productive to engage in a back and forth in which all you’re doing is giving your child false hope that you might eventually give in. 

Tip #3: Don’t Harp on the Incident Afterwards

Kids are resilient and they also forget unpleasant situations very easily. After you leave the grocery store (even if your child is kicking and screaming—say it with me, “this too shall pass!”) and you’re going home, don’t rehash the incident and make your child feel badly.

The incident in the store where you said “no” and didn’t give in was a wonderful teaching moment—for both of you. You survived and you may have even helped other parents in the process who were there observing your consistent approach. Although incidents like these will most definitely repeat themselves, if you stay the course, eventually (sooner rather than later) they will not happen at all! And that’ll be a beautiful day.

How do you handle saying "no"? Tell us in comments below, or post it on Mighty Mommy Facebook wall.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!