Most children don't like to hear the word “no.” And it's easy to see why parents have a hard time saying no to their children. Modern parents are super busy and time with children is limited. Parents don’t want to spend that precious time arguing and dealing with the fallout from denying children what they want.

But if we don’t say “no” to our children, we are doing them a great disservice. Children can’t do or get everything they want, and parents need to be the ones to break that bad news to them on a daily basis. They need to hear ‘no” so they can learn to deal with frustration and disappointment. They need to hear “no” to help them learn self-control and delayed gratification.

Children who don’t hear “no” generally have a hard time playing nicely with others, sharing and waiting their turn. When we say “no” we are teaching them to take into consideration another person’s feelings and perspective. Children who don’t hear "no" will often blame others for their issues or take responsibility for themselves.

Saying " no” to our children helps them learn coping strategies that they can fall back on as they grow older when problems are bigger and life gets more complicated.

Here are some practical tips on how to say "no" to your children:

1. You don’t have to actually say it:

There are some great alternatives to "no" that can avoid conflict and confrontation and still get the same message across. Faber and Mazlish in their book, “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen”, give the following advice:

Give information:

Child: “Can I have ice cream?”
Parent: “Oh I am glad I can remind you. We are having dinner in five minutes.”

Accept their feelings:

Child: (At the park) “I don’t want to go home now.”
Parent: “It is hard to leave a place you enjoy so much. You wish we could stay all day! I bet you wish you could live here.” (As you are taking their hand to leave.)

Describe the problem:

Child: “Can you take me over to Sara’s?”
Parent: “I would love to help you out. But I can’t leave – the repairmen is coming.”

Substitute a yes for a no:

Child: “Can we go to the library?”
Parent: “Yes, we can go tomorrow after school.”

Give yourself time to think:

Child: “Can Eli sleep over tomorrow?”
Parent: “Let me think about it.”

These methods teach children to delay gratification and deal with frustration and disappointments, albeit in a clever, non-confrontational, peaceable manner.

2. Acknowledge their feelings

There are times we'll have to let our children down and tell them disappointing news, whether it's a dinner they don't like or that Grandma’s long-awaited visit has to be cancelled because she is sick. Parents will often start the conversation by saying, “Now don’t be upset, there is nothing to be upset about…” This frustrates children even more because you're dismissing their feelings. If we simply acknowledge that it is, in fact, upsetting, you might get a very different reaction.

You can say, “I think you are going to be sad and disappointed when I tell you this news…” Ironically, acknowledging their feelings helps them deal with it better.

3. Teach the skills needed:

Many children don’t know how to deal with the annoyance of hearing "no." The feelings of disappointment and frustration can overwhelm them, hence the anger and the tantrums.

Julia Cook has a series of books to help children deal with almost any problem that they will encounter. Her book “I Just Don’t Like the Sound of No” follows RJ, a boy who doesn’t like when the adults around him tell him no. RJ learns the steps he needs to take when so that he can accept no peaceably:

  1. Look at the person who is saying “no”
  2. Say “Okay.”
  3. Stay calm on the inside and don’t disagree.
  4. If you disagree, bring it up later.

It is also helpful to teach them ways to keep their body calm. Some suggestions are taking deep breathes, going into their room and relaxing by reading or playing or listening to music.

You can also role play. You can take turns asking for different things and each of you saying ‘no’, and the best way to respond.

Teaching children the language that they need to respectfully disagree can be beneficial. This is especially important for older children:

"Thank you for letting me know. Would it be possible for me to tell you why I think I should get that new dress?”

You can lay down some rules to let them know how many times they can bring up the subject. You have every right to say, “This is a final ‘no’. We cannot have any more discussions about this.”

4. Prepare your child for the next 'no':

You want to make sure that your children know that they cannot threaten or misbehave to get what they want:

You can say:

“Earlier today when I said no, you threw a tantrum. You got so mad. Mommys have to tell their children ‘no’ sometimes, so this might happen again. Let’s talk about what you can do instead the next time you hear ‘no’ and are very disappointed.”

You also can have similar conversations with older children as well.

“Remember, yesterday when we told you that you could not go jogging by yourself. You cannot yell at me like that when you are frustrated. What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

Don't be afraid to say "no" to your children. It's in their best interest that you draw a firm line.