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How to Say “No” to Your Kids

We love our kids and want to make them happy, but, as good parents, we must occasionally say “no” to our kids and risk making them temporarily unhappy.  How to say “no” to your kids is the tricky part.  Here are some tips to make “no” more kid-friendly.

1.      If your kids are old enough that you can reason with them, you can explain the rationale behind your “no”.  For example, “No, you can’t go zip lining with Kylee.  I know Kylee’s family is very adventurous, and that’s ok for their family.  In our family, we are a little more conservative about things.  I know zip lining can be fun for adventurous people, but it is a risky thing to do.  You could get seriously hurt.  I want to protect you from that.  When you get older and can make decisions on your own, you can go zip lining then if you want, but I really don’t want you zip lining before then.  Ok?”

2.      Offer alternatives to your kids.  For example, “While I’m uncomfortable with you zip lining, I wonder if we can reach a compromise.  Kylee’s family is going backpacking in two weeks.  Kylee’s mom called me and asked me if it was ok for you to go with them.  I am comfortable with that.  Would you be comfortable settling for backpacking rather than zip lining?”

3.      If your kids are generally level-headed, you may prompt your kids to say “no” to themselves.  To do this, you should ask your kids questions about what they want and why they want it.  For example, “Zip lining makes me worried for your safety.  Tell me what you know about zip lining.   (wait for response)  What  makes you want to go zip lining?  (wait for response)  I’ve heard that zip lining is risky, so what are the risks involved?  (wait for response)  Is this something that you feel strongly enough about that you’re willing to take these risks?  (wait for response)   What drives your interest in this activity?  Is there some other activity that you would like as much as zip lining but that would be less risky?”  Hopefully, after this exchange, your kids will say “no” to zip lining on their own.  (Note:  if they persist in wanting to go zip lining, then you must choose whether to say “no” on their behalf.)

4.      If your kids are operating from an emotional perspective, reasoning with them will be futile.  It therefore becomes your job to say “no” and stand pat.  You can explain your reasoning in the moment or when your kids have settled down from the “no”-related temper tantrum, but prepare yourself for your rationale not being accepted.  It’s ok for your kids to refuse to accept your rationale from time to time because they are their own unique individuals, but they do need to accept your decision and abide by it.  Further, if you explain your rationale, your kids will, in time, come to understand that your “no” was not borne of malice but of love and wisdom instead.  Therefore, explaining your flow of logic to your kids may not pay off in the near term (i.e., helping your kids accept your “no”), but it should pay off at least in the long term (i.e., helping your kids understand your motivations).

5.      If your kids are in an emergency situation, you need to say “NO” and expect immediate compliance.  For example, if you see your toddler reach for the hot burner on the stove, you should quickly say, “NO!”  Once your toddler is out of harm’s way (i.e., not holding his/her hand over a hot burner), you can explain why you said “no”.

By following these tips, you can make telling your kids “no” more kid-friendly.

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