If you’re like many parents, the prospect of saying no to your children sometimes feels uncomfortable or difficult. The benefits of saying no are unknown. You may believe that it’s simply easier to cave in. After all, how bad is your daughter’s request for another scoop of ice cream? Or, how harmful is it to concede to your son’s pleas “to do the dishes later” … after he’s neglected his chores all week?
For you, the word “no” may have become so closely associated with making your children unhappy that you sacrifice your own time, happiness, or goals to keep the peace. The idea that your refusals might actually be worthwhile teaching moments may be foreign and can feel disorienting or contrary to what you believe is your role as a parent.
In my book, The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say it and Mean It—And Stop People-Pleasing Forever, I address refusing children as young as toddlers to adult children (when parents seem to come to their children’s rescue long after they should be solving problems themselves). Yes-parenting seems to go on and on. But, the benefits of saying no lead to surprising long-term positives for children. Below are good reasons to start embracing a no-parenting mindset to benefit your children whatever their ages.
5 ways saying no helps your child
No is not only about fewer hassles and conflicts, but also ultimately about raising caring, responsible, respectful children. Parental nos are learning opportunities. Here’s why:
1. NO boosts your child’s confidence: When a child asks for help, parents tend to step in quickly and assist — even if that child is perfectly able to handle the task. Think about the last time your son struggled to tie his own shoes. Or, recall when your daughter gave up on her homework too soon. For parents with older children, perhaps the more typical scenario involves helping with an overwhelming job application.
This isn’t to say that parents should never assist when children are in a bind or stuck. Rather, eliminate that first knee-jerk reaction to step in and save the day. Instead, when a child asks you for help, think “No.” Give him or her a chance to solve the issue. (Hints and tips to get a child started are fine.) Not pitching in or bailing him out allows him to feel proud. Your child can declare, “I did it myself!” What better self-esteem booster?
2. NO orients children toward a realistic view of the world: Chances are, you will not be the only person — nor the last — to refuse your child. Strategic nos reduce the chance that a child of any age will feel entitled. Children who are used to hearing no won’t believe that everything is coming his or her way. Among other positives, refusals help children learn to handle disappointment and become resilient. They also help children sharpen their decision-making skills. Your children will need all of these tools as they get older.
3. NO encourages children to be more self-aware: Many children “need to have” things without thinking the “want” through. In many parents’ quests to bring their children happiness, a cycle can emerge. Parents get them what they want, when they want. Parenting with a no-first mindset can help parents put the breaks on in such sticky situations.
Stop and ask yourself: Does my daughter really need to add another sport with practices and games to her schedule? Does your son really think he is passionate enough about music to take up another instrument? Should you allow your child to spend the night at a friend’s house when there’s an important family party the next day? If you decide to refuse, discuss your concerns and potential problems you foresee. Your child can begin to think critically about what she’s capable of doing.
4. NO cultivates empathy: For most parents, every task added to your children’s calendar usually means you add something to your to-do list: rushing them to band practice; doing extra laundry after soccer practice; spending additional money every month on lessons. I think most parents will agree that their children don’t comprehend the level of commitment it requires from parents for them to fulfill their children’s wants and whims. Responding with no challenges your children to recognize your needs, too. When embraced regularly, sensible nos can open your child’s eyes to your perspective and that of others.
5. NO helps teach money management: Let’s say that your child wants the toy or electronic gadget that his friends have and would like you to pay for it. Saying no emphasizes to your children that money doesn’t appear out of thin air. Or, it communicates that the family may have limited financial resources. You might suggest she save more of her allowance or use the birthday money she received. No-parenting can be a particularly handy teaching tool for older children, especially teens working at their first job.
Once you accept the benefits of saying no for you and your children, you will probably use it more frequently. Over time, you’ll have less trouble standing strong in the face of your child’s attempts to change your mind. For more tips on the benefits of saying no, visit The Book of No.