It’s OK to Say No to Your Child

It’s OK to Say No to Your Child


As a parent, grandparent, or another caregiver, it can be stressful taking care of your child. Of course, your child provides you with joy, happiness, and optimism in your life. Nothing else can come close.

But having said this, parenting can be difficult. There’s no way around it. Even if you are tired or stressed, your child has certain needs that need to be met, whether that is a story read before bedtime or an extra snack when your child is hungry. After some time, it becomes natural to respond to these favors or requests without thinking twice.

While you may believe that being hyper-attentive to your child’s needs is a necessary part of parenting, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. In fact, I would strongly argue that you don’t need to respond to every single one of your child’s needs.


To put it another way, it’s OK to say no to your child.

By saying no to your child, you leverage two key benefits. First, you are able to free up more time for yourself. But even beyond this benefit, saying no builds resilience in your child. They understand that everyone in life isn’t there to cater to their needs. In life, not everything is going to go their way. While this may be an uncomfortable lesson at first, it will pay off in spades in the future.


The Power of Building Habits

So why do we say yes so often to our children? Yes, we want to make them happy. As loving caregivers, that is a given. However, in most situations, we say yes because we are trying to reduce our child’s stress or eliminate a conflict that is occurring.

I’m sure that you can imagine the scenarios. As just one example, your child wants to watch one of their favorite television shows, even though they have been watching TV or using a device for some time now. When you tell them they can’t watch their show, the child starts crying. To make the child stop crying (especially if we have guests at our home), we capitulate and move on.

Even though it may seem benign at the moment, giving in to our child’s demands sets a troubling precedent. That precedent is that the child is in charge, rather than you. He or she knows that by crying or making a scene, he or she will get what they want. It’s not complicated, yet we succumb to this pattern in order to avoid sudden stress.

Ultimately, refusing to say no reinforces the way that children learn. Children learn in three particular ways. Those ways are imitation, consistency, and repetition. This isn’t rocket science, yet caregivers—for whatever reason—seem to forget it. Our behavior, both the good and the bad, is instinctually studied by our children. So if we are constantly capitulating and giving in to their needs, it’s no wonder that they will expect similar treatment in the future. Moreover, they may expect it from others that they encounter, whether it is an aunt, uncle, grandparent, or even a friend’s parent. This can lead to some nasty situations—especially if neither side is willing to back down.

On the flip side, by saying no, your child builds resilience. Even if there are some momentary tears, he or she will get mentally stronger, which will obviously serve them well in the long-run. He or she will build grit and will intuitively understand that life isn’t always going to go their way. This is a gift that is best presented at a younger, rather than older age.

To be clear, I’m not saying that you need to say no to your child every single time. There is nuance here. There is give and take. However, if you are starting to notice that you are saying yes overwhelmingly more than no, you should take a second and think about what lessons you are teaching your child. As a friend who is a judge once told me, “If you can’t get your five-year-old to behave, I will get them to behave when they see me at the age of fifteen.”


How to Move Forward

So understanding why it is OK to say no to your child, you may be hoping for practical steps on how to do so. It sounds simple enough, but how do you do it in reality?

Let’s assume that you are going to pick up your child from daycare. She doesn’t want to leave and starts to make a scene. In this situation, bend down so your eyes are at the same level as hers. Say “I want you to get your coat and backpack. It’s time to leave. If she refuses, then give an ultimatum. Say “I’m going to count to five, and if you don’t get your jacket and coat, I am going to carry you out.” If she still refuses, carry her out. The point here is to give your child a chance to fix the behavior. If she doesn’t then, remove her from the situation. Yes, there may be some initial tears, but you are setting a strong precedent that she will follow in the future.

In sum, if you want to teach a child some skills or behavior, you must be firm. That behavior must be reinforced daily—even if she starts complaining. After some time, you will start to notice that your child becomes less resistant to your requests. She will intuitively understand that you are in charge and that your instructions must be followed.

This is a big deal. It sets the foundation for your relationship going forward. By contrast, ignoring this or simply saying yes sets a bad precedent. After all, if you can’t control a two-year-old, you won’t be able to control a three-year-old. And then you won’t be able to control a four-year-old, and so on.

So go ahead and get started today. There’s no better time than the present. I wish you the best of luck!

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