Some parents seem to be worried about saying no to their children for fear of upsetting them or spoiling their relationship.

Let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no!

Some parents seem to be worried about saying no to their children for fear of upsetting them or spoiling their relationship.  I remember one family informing me proudly on a home visit once, that, “Our child has never been told, ‘no’ in her life – we don’t use that word”.  Wow!  What a bubble that was to burst!

It is good to say ‘no’ to a child sometimes!  There are good reasons why:

  • You may be saying ‘No’ to them running out onto a busy road – in this instance you will have no time to explain or cajole, they just need to respond immediately to your command!
  • Life, as every one of us knows, is full of disappointments – do you really want the first disappointment that you cannot do anything about to be the first time they are experiencing this? Better to get them used to it and help them to bounce back quickly.  It is good for children to experience negative emotions and get used to handling them well. 
  • It is imperative that children learn to do as they are told by an adult in charge of them. Imagine if a whole class refused to listen to a teacher?  How would any of them learn anything?  There would be chaos and therefore danger!  (This is not to say that children shouldn’t learn where boundaries lie, the adult in question must also be fully accountable for the child’s well-being and safety. 


Give children a definitive answer

Try to say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ rather than maybe, or, ‘we’ll see’.  Make things as black and white as you can.  If you cannot give a clear Yes or No immediately for a reason, explain the reason quickly and leave it at that. 


No caving in!

It is actually damaging to your child and your relationship with them and their relationship with others if you cave in.  Why?  Think about the following:

  • Do you want your word to mean anything? Do you want your children to know you as a pushover they can manipulate, or do you want them to know your word is your bond?
  • Do you want to teach your child that after you have said something they don’t want to hear, that you will change your mind if they kick off for long and loudly enough? Caving in reinforces this every time you do it and makes it even harder for them in future
  • Do you think other adults such as teachers, swimming instructors or shop keepers will back down? Do you want your child to have one set of values when they deal with these people and a different set at home? How confusing is this?
  • Do you want your child to learn how to be a manipulator with you and in their current and future relationships with others?

None of us can get this right every single time and please don’t beat yourself up when you get it wrong and back down.  Go and apologise to your child for not being strong enough with them.  And remind them that we only discipline those we love – backing down is the easy way out and they are worth far more than that!


NEVER give in to a tantrum!

Tantrums need to lead to an apology and consequences: “Not only can you not have another packet of sweets, but you are now going to have to do time out because you had a tantrum when I said no.”

Why would you teach and then reinforce to a child that kicking off gets them whatever they want?! Don’t work against yourself!

Always praise a child for responding well to a no, (or a difficult ‘yes’).  Thank them for being so grown up about it and let them see that you are proud of their ability to self-regulate their feelings.  Tell other people about how grown up they have been, in front of them.  Children repeat what they receive attention for. 

Some people seem to feel it’s not good for children to be punished for doing something wrong and focus on their child’s rights, wants and needs.  Remember we always have the right to choose our own actions, but we cannot choose the consequences of those actions.   Prisons are full of people who never learned this as a child. 


Always keep your promises, never threaten anything you cannot carry out:

If you break your promises to your child it teaches them firstly to break promises themselves (please be clear, children copy what you do far more readily than do what you say).  It also teaches them to automatically accept those who break promises to them.  Do you want your son or daughter to end up in relationships where promises mean nothing?

If you threaten something, as a consequence, make sure you can follow it through.  Please don’t threaten to call the police on your 3 year old to scare them – they will soon realise you never do it and again, your words will mean nothing. If you threaten to put them on the thinking step for 5 minutes, make sure it is exactly 5 minutes before they are allowed to come off, and only then, after an apology. 

Making sure your ‘yes is yes and your no is no’ is hard.  Parenting is very tiring and very hard!  But at the end of the day, it’s not about us, it’s about shaping these precious young children as best we possibly can and making sure that they are emotionally and morally ready to be confident well-loved adults or to perhaps to even lead a family of their own.