There’s been a trend in the parenting books and blogs encouraging parents to have “yes” days, or to say “yes” more often. Child development experts and early childhood educators advocate the use of “positive” language, avoiding negative terms like “don’t” or “stop”. And while there’s a time and place for these tools, it’s equally important that our kids hear the word “no”.
Saying “No” to our kids doesn’t hurt them.
Instead, they NEED to hear the word “no” often, especially when they are younger, because it gives them the ability to say “no” themselves. Saying no to and around our kids helps to protect them, gives them safe spaces to learn, and challenges them to grow. It helps them understand good citizenship values and be able to listen to their own bodies. We need to tell our kids “no” whenever we have an opportunity to do so.
Saying “no” helps protect our kids from themselves and others.
Under the age of 25, human brains are not fully developed. In fact, before puberty, children have a hard time connecting consequences to their actions, and evaluating risk for themselves. When a parent says “no”, parents are helping to protect their kids before they can protect themselves.
Teach your kids how to say no by telling them no. “No hitting”, “no biting”, “no kicking”, “no touching” are simple, clear phrases that not only do children understand, but can repeat easily. And those simple, clear phrases could save them in future!
Saying “no” helps them learn to listen to their own bodies and instincts.
Adults can find it difficult to say no to our own bodies when it comes to food, drinks or bad habits. Our kids can struggle more, because they don’t have the reasoning ability or self-regulation tools to help themselves. It’s our job as parents to help them learn to listen to their own bodies by saying no, when it’s appropriate.
It’s important to ask questions first. A child asks for a 2nd serving as they do for every meal, but either they only take a few bites or they don’t feel good after. So ask them if they’re really hungry or if the food just tastes good! Help them check in with their own bodies. If they insist they’re still hungry, and you’re sure they probably aren’t, go ahead and say “no”. Offer an explanation too, as that can help children understand when and why to say no for themselves.
Saying “no” helps model healthy boundaries.
My kids have a habit of climbing on me for physical affection whenever I sit down. And most of the time, I don’t mind. But sometimes, I’m all touched out, or I have something I need to do without a child sitting on my lap. So I will clearly and firmly tell my kids “no”. I set that boundary.
When I set my own boundaries, my kids are free to set theirs. And when they tell me no, I will respect their healthy and safe “no”, especially when it comes to their own bodies and feelings.
Saying “No” teaches respect and generosity.
When kids hear “no” they hear about a fence. Sometimes the fence keeps them away from an unsafe situation, and when that boundary is enforced, kids learn to respect danger and their own need for safety.
Sometimes that fence keeps them inside. Parents saying “no”, as in “no you don’t have to share if you don’t want to,” or “no you don’t have to play if you don’t want to” helps them learn that they care protected. And with that protection, they can then offer generosity.
Saying “no” creates a safe space for kids to explore without fear.
When you draw lines around your kids with firm no’s, you surround your children with security. They can then freely explore within those boundaries, because they can trust your “no”. They can play without fear, they can learn without interruption and they can interact with the world without caution.
Parents that say “no” help their kids learn to trust, and to live without fear. “No” doesn’t teach fear, it teaches respect, and “no” prevents anxiety.
So say “No, you can’t play in the street,” and “No climbing that tree,” when kids aren’t seeing the danger. Give them clear lines and then let them play freely inside those lines. You’ll see them grow confident and bold. And when they’re ready, you can say yes to the old boundaries and give them a new freedom.
Saying “no” challenges kids to grow.
This is probably the toughest part of saying “no”. Because sometimes, saying “no” encourages our kids to test themselves and the boundaries. While that can be frustrating for a parent, it’s actually really healthy for kids. As they push back on the “no”, they learn for themselves about risk, about failure, about frustration and disappointment — and they learn how to cope. And that makes for people who know how to grow.
Clear firm boundaries can become enclosing shells, and like the hermit crab, sometimes those shells get too small. When that happens, it’s ok to move on to bigger and better. So don’t be afraid when your “no” results in pushback. Take that as a sign your child is experiencing some growing pains, and may be ready for bigger things.
Saying “No” grows healthy kids.
While there are many ways to say no, one of the best and simplest is to use the actual word “no”. You can redirect, offer explanation, commiseration, and understanding with your “no”, but don’t be afraid to say the word. Parents saying “no” is healthy for kids. It’s like a mental and emotional vitamin. It helps them learn, listen, challenge and grow for themselves. Saying “no” is one of a parent’s main jobs.
So say no to your kids. It’s good for them.