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  • Writer's pictureNicci Smith

Why We Don't Tell Our Kids "No"

When my "Littles" were really little - like baby and toddler size - I consumed all the parenting books and seminars I possibly could. I, like many parents, had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I knew what type of parent I didn't want to be and I knew I wanted to raise kind and decent humans, but I wasn't sure how to do it.

While consuming all the knowledge, I found that some things didn't make much sense to me. I didn't necessarily agree with every aspect of any one type of parent, so I ended up piecing together what I thought would work best with our family and our values. (Which is exactly what I encourage others to do!) One of the methods I learned was to eliminate the word "no," whenever possible.

I know, it sounds crazy when you read it or you hear of other parents who choose not to say "no" to their kids. I assure you, I'm not letting my children run around like little hellions, doing whatever it is that they want to do. That is not what I mean when I say we don't tell our kids "no."

So, if we're not saying "no" to our kids, what in the world are we doing?

Using Descriptive words

When our children were really little and learning about the world around them, we would default to descriptive words instead of the word "no". When they would hit or kick or bite or pull an animal's tail, we would say "OUCH! That hurts!" If they tried to reach towards the stove or oven we would say "HOT! OWIES!"

By using descriptive words, children are learning the "why" behind the action and not simply being told not to do something. It's not uncommon for children to see the word "no" as a challenge and make a game out of it - which is something we wanted to avoid. When we are able to express to them the reason why they shouldn't do something, it takes the challenge away.

Saying "YES!"

Whenever possible, we replace our "no" with a "yes." For example, if one of our kiddos asks for a big ol' bowl of ice cream before dinner, instead of saying "no, we'll be having dinner soon," we'll say, "yes, you can absolutely have some ice cream - after dinner."

We found that by replacing our "no's" with "yes," we received less pushback. (Notice I said less pushback.) When we did receive pushback we would take a little more time and discuss the why and add a little distraction.

"I know it's really hard to wait for something you really want, but dinner is going to be so yummy. Would you like to choose what veggie we're going to have tonight?"

Offering Options

That brings me to the options option. (haha...see what I did there?) We like to offer options whenever possible. If we revisit the ice cream question but place it earlier in the day when it wouldn't interfere with dinner we might offer an option instead.

Example: "Yes, you can have your ice cream now. Or, you can have ice cream after dinner tonight. Which would you like to choose?"

If they chose to have ice cream right away and then ask for it again after dinner, we simply say "remember? You chose to have your ice cream earlier today."

Parenting with Love and Logic is one book that discusses this technique. We used this method a lot when our kiddos don't want to wear a coat in the winter. We ask them if they would like to wear the coat or carry the coat. Either way, the coat is coming with us, but they get to decide how. The power of the decision is in their hands.

Ask A LOT of Questions

Now, as our children have gotten older, we've taken on the "ask a lot of questions" approach. I understand this is not an approach that works for everyone, but this is what we've found to work for us. This approach does come with a fair amount of heartache. You have to be okay with letting your children fail.

Instead of saying "no" when our oldest asks to go to a late-night movie during the school week, we ask a lot of questions.


"Is it going to be so late that you're going to struggle to get up for school tomorrow?"

"Is there an earlier option or a weekend option that might work better?" "What do you think should happen if you don't get up for school tomorrow?"

Sometimes he really, really wants to go to the movie at all costs and sometimes he decides to wait because he has a test the next day and doesn't want to be too tired. However, allowing him to fail forward before he moves out of our house will hopefully prevent some major hiccups in the future.

The One Exception

Now, there is an exception to not saying no and that is personal boundaries. Because we don't say "no" for all the things, I think it helps to emphasize the importance of the word "no". We make it known in our home that everyone is allowed to set their own personal boundaries and "no" means "no." We make this clear to everyone who comes into contact with our children and we start at a very young age. Even their grandparents know to ask for a hug and there will be no pouting or acting sad if they say "no." This is a touchy subject that could be its own blog post or series of blog posts, so for now we'll just leave it as "no means no."

Why We Choose not to say "NO"

Does this always work? Of course not. We have five children and we are super busy. Sometimes we get exhausted and simply say "no - that's not happening." The point here isn't perfection but persistence and consistency. Our goal is to equip our children with the tools they need to be successful adults. God willing, they will spend more years living outside our home than inside of it and we want to be able to send them out into the world with a relatively good head on their shoulders and a heart for others.

Is this perfect? No. I would have to say that we've had it pretty easy with our oldest (who we fondly call our first pancake) and he really thinks through things before making decisions. However, I thought he was going to be the death of me when he was about 8 and was still throwing fits, which is when we really started to explore different parenting styles and techniques.

I understand this is a difficult concept for some people to wrap their minds around and many will flat-out disagree. And that is okay. That's the great thing about having your own family - you get to decide what works for you and what doesn't. This is what we've found works for us.

Interested in learning more? Here are some books to check out. Peruse and pull from them what you think works for you and your family and brush off the stuff you don't agree with.

How do you feel about saying "no" to children? I'd love to hear from you!

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