Say No

You may be trying to get your little one to say “Dada” before she says, “Mama.” It’s a friendly competition that you expect to win! The truth is, one of the first words your child will learn to say is “no.”


I firmly believe children learn to say “no” because they hear it so often from their parents. Teaching our children to speak doesn’t just involve those times we get in their faces and practice. Sounding out words we want to hear from their lips isn’t the only way they learn. They also learn from the words we use on the phone in front of them and the words we use on one another as parents.


It seems that continuing to use the word “no” after our children are in school is one of the changes in parenting today. When was the last time you heard a parent tell their child “no?” I’d like to suggest a few opportunities we might be missing to use the word “no” on our children.


When they ask for new stuff. They have plenty of toys, especially after Christmas, but they want one of those. Maybe the television suggested it or maybe one of their friends has one. They have other things but they want this thing. It’s a good time to say “no” and skip the insanity that material things can sometimes bring to our households.


When they want to play with new friends you don’t know. It is amazing how one new friend can change the atmosphere in a home. Your otherwise cooperative child now has an attitude over things they used to ignore. It may not be fair to blame the other kid when your child acts out but sometimes we have to take steps to protect the investment of our teaching and the importance of the values we have tried to instill. If you can’t use the word “no,” try saying, “I’d like to meet their parents first.” This is especially important when sleepovers or going to a friend’s house is involved.


When they won’t put the phone down. This challenge might require a revised translation of the word “no.” It isn’t like we don’t want our children to be savvy with electronics; we just don’t want the device to grow to their hands. When you can’t get their attention or they forget to do their chores, it is time for a revision in the electronic devices policy. Limit the time spent at one sitting. Limit the minutes per day. Encourage alternate activities, especially playing outside. Children need a balance between inside and outside play. There is no substitute for grass and trees and sunshine.


Sometimes the best way to say “no” is with an enforceable statement. Love and Logic parents tell their children what they will do or allow. They don’t waste time trying to bribe their kids or continually bark commands that go unheeded. Try saying, “You can play with the phone after the table is set.” Or try, “I will need to meet Eric’s mom before you can play at his house.” Keep it positive but let yourself use the implied “no.”


Remember that stubborn children may need a delayed consequence. When they just won’t put the phone down you can say, “Ohhhh, that’s so sad. I’m going to have to do something about that. Later.” Leave them guessing until you come up with the perfect consequence. You don’t have to have an answer on the spur of the moment when your child misbehaves.


It’s okay to say “no” to your children! It’s even okay to say “no” simply because you haven’t said it for a while. Life is full of disappointments. We cannot afford to leave our children thinking that they will always get what they want. That’s called spoiling your child.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.