The importance of saying “NO”

As a parent it sometimes feels like all you do all day is say NO to your children.

How hard is it to say that word NO and feel confident your child won’t have a meltdown, demand more and push you to the limit until you give in and say YES?

Why is it important to say NO to children? How hard is it to say the word NO and follow through for parents today?

The importance of saying the word NO is an important skill for parents in relation to their children’s developing sense of autonomy. That is that the child develops a set of skills and attitudes about themselves and their self worth and self respect. It is also important to recognise that in some instances the word NO is imperative and children need to know what the word NO means in these instances. Saying NO is often necessary is some instances to protect children from harm.

For children to develop a healthy positive attitude, patience, values and clear codes of behaviour and conduct it is important for parents to communicate and nurture limits that coincide with their own values, experiences and knowledge.

It is as just important to say the word YES as it is to say the word NO.

Acknowledging and focusing on your children’s positive and appropriate behaviour is just as important if not more important than continually correcting them. Encouraging your children, letting them to do things that are acceptable and appropriate offers them opportunities for learning and gaining confidence in themselves.

How to say “NO”

The way we talk to our children is a reflection on how we ourselves would like to be spoken to and how we your children will speak to others ad they go through their own journey in life.

NO is a powerful word and easily said.

The word NO does have negative implications.

The word NO doesn’t need to be harsh and punitive or be yelled to be effective but it also doesn’t need to be avoided either.

As parents we need to make judgements all the time about what sorts of behaviour are appropriate.

Where do we set a limit? When do we say NO or YES and how we word the limit without negative overtones. It is usually not about the actual word NO but more about the overtones and strategy.

For younger children it may be more appropriate to set limits and the consequences in a more positive way. Stating the limit in a framework that informs them of what you want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do. E.g ‘please keep your feet on the floor’ instead of ‘don’t stand on the table’.

Why are parents so scared to say “NO”

Parents want their children to be happy and not battle with them and their constant sad and teary faces and tantrums.

As a parent to set a limit is challenging and children may challenge you back. This scenario every parent can relate to at some point in time. How you react to your child through this challenging exchange will influence the outcome. How you guide your child through this challenging time is the important issue here.

Knowing when to say NO is a significant part of educating your children and providing clear boundaries will help you in providing a safe predictable learning environment. This is turn will allow them to explore their world with some level of responsibility and independence. This is important for them to become responsible balanced adults.

Paying some positive attention and engaging in conversation or play with children can change the dynamic of the situation from something that may seem negative into something far more positive.

If you listen to your child they will listen to you and you will probably find yourself saying the word “NO’ less often.

Be prepared to be on the receiving end of the word NO as well. Your pre school child may say NO when you have asked them do something. Allowing your child the right to say NO is an important developmental learning opportunity. We should not look at this as defiance and rejection of you as an authority figure. This is an important learning opportunity for a child for you to respect this right so they feel empowered. This is of course only when the word NO is used in an appropriate context. E.g they may not want to be tickled or share a toy. Sometimes we have to resect the child’s sense of autonomy and individual rights just as we do for adults.

5 tips on how to say “NO”

1. Say what you want your child to DO, rather than what you DON’T want them to do.

When telling a child what they cant do it is important to let them know what they can do.

e.g “NO you cant have an ice cream” can become “We can eat some ice cream after our dinner”


2. Try using the word “STOP” instead.

Often when we use the word NO we often want children to stop doing what they are doing. Try using the word ‘STOP’ instead.

e.g “lets stop and think about what would happen if we had our ice cream before dinner?”


3. Give children a reason for saying “NO”.

Studies have shown that children are more likely to do as they are asked if they are given an explanation of why they are being asked to do something.

e.g “throwing blocks at your brother is not a great idea they will hurt him. How about we put all the blocks on the floor and see what we can build with them”


4. Offer an alternative.

It is important to offer a suitable alternative to what you do not want them to do or what they are asking you for.

e.g ‘can we play at the park longer?” could be answered as such “ we have been at the park for while now how about we go home and do some painting. I noticed you enjoyed using your paints the other day”


5. Empathise with your child and say “YES”

This tactic encourages you to understand and acknowledge what you child is wanting. Try saying YES instead of NO in a more positive state of mind.

e.g  ‘can I have some sweets’ you can reply with a positive alternative such as “YES I agree it would be nice to have some sweets now but its nearly dinner time. How about we have some after dinner and you can hand them out to everyone.”


About the Author:

Sarah Meldrum  is an advisor to Whole Kids. A Mothercraft nurse with a Post Graduate degree in Pre and Post-natal Support, as well as a Master’s degree in Infant Mental Health.  Sarah has over 30 years’ experience in family daycare, in home care, children’s protection and mother baby unit (sleep school). With two children of her own Sarah’s approach focuses mainly on developing the parent-child relationship, empowering parents and children and providing a safe and secure environment for both parents and children to thrive.

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