It’s more than OK to say no

My poor children! 

They were born into a family where their mother and father aren’t afraid to say no — and to mean it. At times, they might think it’s an unfortunate circumstance, but I know that it’s often for their own good.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of times that my husband and I do say yes, and cave in to requests. But, in our parenting journey, we’re working hard to enforce rules, consequences, limits and boundaries that reflect the values we’re trying to instill in our children (and the love we have for them, too). 

Ultimately, we want to keep our children safe and healthy. We also want them to grow up to be well-adjusted adults who know how to work through disappointment and frustration, who have experienced — and understand how to delay — gratification and who understand how to have a healthy work/life/extracurricular balance.

I know my children need and sometimes — even though their actions and/or emotions may not show it — want to hear the word no.

As psychologist David Walsh — author of No: Why Kids of All Ages Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It — said: “No, is not just a one-word answer, it is a parenting strategy.” 

Why do we cave so easily?

Saying “no,” and meaning it can be exhausting! As a kindergarten teacher and mother of four, I’ve had my fair share of experiences with vocal, disappointed children who haven’t liked what I’ve had to say.

I know, in the short term, it can be a lot easier and can take a lot less effort to let your child get his or her way, rather than standing strong.

But creating a “yes” culture, as Walsh puts it, can send kids the message that they can and should have whatever they want whenever they want it.

Walsh, who argues children’s brains are primed early on to learn the concept of “no, explains that avoiding “no” can lead to disappointment and failure when kids later learn they can’t always have their way. 

Amy McCready in her book The ‘Me, Me, Me’ Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World, argues that the habit of giving in can be detrimental for families:

It happens in the car, at home, in stores, at the park — you name it. It’s the great give-in, and it’s one of the biggest contributors to the entitlement epidemic. Desperate parents everywhere cave when their kids push them hard enough, teaching them all kinds of unhelpful lessons: for instance, that rules can be broken and that it’s perfectly acceptable to use bad behavior to accomplish a goal.

Facing down the guilt

Also, feelings of guilt can weigh us down as parents. You’ve probably been there too, thinking you’re the worst parent or catching yourself worrying that you’re depriving your children of something “everyone else” has or does. 

But the reality is, oftentimes a simple “no” can open up opportunities for more time together, less time working to pay something off and fewer commitments, which can potentially alleviate stress for the entire family.

I remember when my daughter was in first grade and we made the hard decision to have her stop participating in the dance class she loved and excelled at when she was in kindergarten. Her first-grade practice schedule would have been over the suppertime hour three days of the school-week. 

As a working mom with (at that time) four children ages 7 and younger, it was an overwhelming undertaking to make multiple after-school trips along with the necessary responsibilities of keeping a home. 

Having her participate in the experience would have compromised our chance to spend time around our family table daily — and my sanity. 

Just thinking about it was stressful!

We said “no,” and she survived. And, with this perspective and understanding of how saying “no” can open up more time together, our family is thriving.


Megan Devine lives and blogs in Northeastern Minnesota. Follow her on Instagram @megtdevine. Send questions or comments to at mdevine@mnparent.com.