Why Teaching Our Kids To Say No Is So Important

The very idea that I need to teach my children to say “no” seems like a joke. At 3 and 5, “no” seems like the only word they know sometimes.

Do you want green beans?


It’s time to go home.


Can you please help me put the blocks away?


But it’s no joke. Kids really do need to practice saying no. So, instead of getting frustrated when your toddler says “no” for the tenth time, be proud—at least she’s assertive.

Or so says a study in “Child Development.” Researchers report that children during their toddler and early preschool years argue with their parents anywhere from three and a half to 15 times an hour. That’s a whole lot of no and, if you’re me, a whole lot of deep breathing in attempt to get zen. But!

The research showed that “in the context of these arguments with mothers, children were learning how to negotiate and to justify their side of arguments and that these skills are eventually transferred to arguments with peers.”

Hmmm. Well, that doesn’t sound all bad.

John Sargent, MD, a child psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, echoed this thought to Parents.

“Kids this age are realizing that they can assert themselves, and arguing with you is one way they gain confidence,” he told the publication.

But how can we teach them to flex these skills politely?

For one, while kids still need to eat their vegetables and wear pants, giving them a voice in how they eat or what they wear can be great a great confidence booster. We can also empower our kids to make choices about how they spend their time, and with whom they want to associate. This could mean respecting their wishes when they don’t want to hug a long lost relative.

It could also mean easing up on all the fair and share talk. Let’s face it: Sharing isn’t easy, or even necessary in every situation. Think about it. Adults don’t share, at least not in the way we expect our kids to share. If my friend took my cell phone away from me or insisted she drive my car instead of hers, I’d be ticked. Do kids really need to share everything? Or is it okay to say, “no, I’d rather not”? I’m not saying our children can’t compromise. But well-behaved kids don’t have to be pushovers.

toddlers sharing photo
Flickr | donnierayjones

Instead of encouraging our kid to give up his swing because a friend whined about it being her turn, we could coach our kids to say, “I’ll be happy to let you swing when I’m finished.”

This might seem like a small change now, but having effective communication skills later on when the pressures and choices do matter is critical. Just flash forward ten years. When the question becomes Should I do something I know is wrong just to save face with my friends? that ability to say no with confidence matters big time.

Simone Marean, co-founder and executive director of Girls Leadership, an organization that teaches girls to exercise the power of their voice, says we need to help our children better communicate their desires. As a mom, when I see my kids having a disagreement on the playground, it’s hard not to jump in and fix the situation. But as Marean told The Washington Post, “The only way they are going to get these skills is if we step back and let them practice.”

And with enough practice, by the time they get to the big choices, they’ll be confident enough to speak their minds.

“Children are more likely to pause and check in with their true feelings,” Marean says, “if they practiced saying no for years leading to that point.”

All this practice with saying “no” may be hard on us parents of young children, but just keep thinking about the teen years. We’re giving our kids the skills they need to speak up and make choices based on what they want. Not what their friends want them to do.