Tips & Tricks The art of saying no to children

The art of saying no to children


Some parents hardly put limits on their children. Others are strict and weave a host of prohibitions. Is there a middle ground? What is best for children?

Saying “no” to a child is not always the easiest or most comfortable thing, since after that “no” a little battle will probably start with him. However, you have to think that this refusal is also part of education and that it is a way of teaching children what they can or cannot do, what is right and what is not.

In other words, saying “no” when it is necessary to say it (imagine that the child is about to do something that endangers their safety) is part of teaching and is an exercise that will help them to be responsible for their acts, to respect others and to begin to have better control over themselves.


When talking about discipline in the education of children, the authoritarian attitude exercised by parents of previous generations usually comes to mind, but between that authoritarianism and the permissiveness or sloppiness that involves letting them do whatever they want, there is a middle ground.

The lack of norms is as little educational as excessive authoritarianism, because if everything does not matter and everything goes, the child feels confused and disoriented. Finding the right dose between both extremes and combining it with the appropriate affection is the best method to educate.

The authority of the parents must be understood as the way to instill some guidelines, values ​​and criteria of behavior appropriate to each age and each moment of the children’s development so that they can not only abide by them at that moment, but so that at in the long run they internalize them, make them their own and serve them to better relate to themselves and to others.

Educating implies instilling a series of norms and habits, that is, teaching a discipline, but that does not mean that educating is forcing a child to do exclusively what adults want him to do, without having any kind of consideration for his needs and her CARACTERISTICS.

Saying “no” is part of the educational work of parents. But for that “no” to make sense and also add up, it is convenient to follow these guidelines:


Discipline should always be based on understanding, affection, and communication, not mere authority. It is convenient to create within the family a climate of dialogue based on mutual trust and that allows the expression and respect of all opinions.

When the child does something wrong, it is convenient to listen to his explanations and arguments, since it is almost impossible for him to always act unconsciously or in bad faith.


Saying “no” should have an educational sense and should not serve the fears and frustrations of parents.

It is convenient to think about whether the limits and norms that are trying to impose are simply good for the parents, in the sense that they leave them more relaxed if the child does what they want, or if they are really going to help the child to grow and mature emotionally.

It is necessary to learn to say “no” to what is truly important, since otherwise it loses all meaning and even questions the good judgment of parents. And say it at the right time, without letting things go and acting out of time or out of place.


It is convenient to maintain the criterion that has been set: what is wrong today tomorrow is still wrong, because if contradictions appear, children will end up doing what they want.

Although the father and mother may have differences in the way they see things and even in some of their values, they must achieve a coherent consensus in education so that there are no contradictions between them, neither in the methods nor in the content.

There is a double message when a father allows one day to do something that was previously prohibited, and vice versa. Also, when in a systematic way the father and the mother have opposing ideas and under that disagreement, they cover the faults of their children based on their own ideas.

Being permanently educated under these double messages generates great confusion in children, who protect themselves under the mantle of who is best for them at all times, while they grow up without clear criteria of what is right or wrong.


However, in the daily maelstrom it is easy and normal to make mistakes. For this reason, a “no” often responds more to the parents’ state of mind or their own fears than to a specific educational need. As children get older, they become aware of these contradictions and are able to question or refute them.

If that situation arises, parents should be honest with themselves and with their children, recognizing that they may have been wrong and assuming the mistake. In this way they also teach them that nobody is perfect but that at least the mistakes made can be recognized and repaired.

One of the most frequent is to be sparing with flattery. The child likes to be praised for good behavior, something that some parents may overlook. Criticism of what is wrong should not be the most common.


It is preferable to educate from respect and tolerance, showing one’s behavior as an example or a mirror, and trying to give the necessary explanations so that children can understand the meaning of these rules.

Parents are the best mirrors in which the child can see himself reflected. If we tell them that it is wrong to do something we should not do it either. And if we want them to improve in any way, we should also be able to do so.


The “no” should never be arbitrary or “because I said so.” It is necessary to reason and argue the reason for the refusals.

Nor should it become a mere ban. It should be accompanied by examples or explanations of what we think they should do. Behind a “no” you have to be able to show the child how we think it is okay to do things.

For example, if we tell them not to pick up the cutlery in such a way, we have to teach them the optimal way to pick it up; If we do not allow them to spend the afternoon in front of the television, we must suggest other ways to entertain themselves, or indicate that they must first do their homework.

Without that accompaniment, the “no” by itself is losing value. The child then complains, with good reason, that “you are always telling me no” or “you won’t let me do anything.”


Many parents wonder when they should teach their children to obey and it is easy to hear expressions such as “he is still very young, he does not understand” or “leave him, we will teach him when he grows up.”

As with other aspects of education, the teaching of limits must start from the moment they are born; it is simply a matter of doing it by adapting to their level of development.


In these early years, parents become almost a kind of “shadow” of their children, who constantly observes and watches over them to give them protection and security. We are teaching them limits when we remove them from danger, when we force them to leave an especially fragile object or when we do not allow them to touch a socket.

These prohibitions have an educational meaning and carry implicit orders. When they are young, all these instructions are usually made with a gesture, a look or a change in the tone of the voice, and most of the time accompanied by the word “no”.

It is not about imposing just because, as a sign of the power of parents over children. The teaching of norms is thus exercised unconsciously from the moment they are born so that they do not take risks and do not harm themselves, trying to make them do what we believe is best for them.


After those first years, parents enter a more complex terrain since they must ensure not only the safety of their children but also their good behavior.

After three years it is true that they already learn to discriminate what they are allowed to do and what is prohibited and also that as they master the language, they are prepared to understand the reasons for the risks and the meaning of the prohibitions.

But at that age they show their desire to express themselves as they are, to vindicate their personality, hence, when faced with refusals from parents, they can respond with tantrums and displays of anger.


It is no longer so much about monitoring and punishing behaviors that can cause harm or accidents as about educating them in the acquisition of new habits, such as personal hygiene, collaboration in housework, responsibility in their studies.

Parents need to be more diligent in setting limits and rules for their children to follow, and honestly reprimand them when necessary.

10 TO 14 YEARS

The entry into adolescence represents a new challenge for parents, since the demands of their children are increasing and they ask for more freedom to meet friends, to have their schedules and to organize their free time in a personal and independent way.

The first thing to clarify is that the adolescent, although the opposite appears to be apparent, continues to need to feel loved and protected by their parents. Therefore, it needs to continue to have rules of the game, even if it is to criticize them or try to skip them.

All this means that despite the discussions that may arise, parents must remain firm in their educational criteria, adapting them to the new stage of their children and that, therefore, it is necessary to set arrival times at home, demand collaboration in housework, continue to supervise the operation of their studies, control the money they spend, etc.


Many of these issues can begin to be negotiated with them, giving in some times and holding their own at others. Most likely, they will end up not respecting more than one of the rules that we have agreed upon. For this reason, it is convenient that in this negotiation they also agree on the consequences that they are willing to assume when they do not comply with them.

So, if it has been agreed that if they arrive later than the agreed time, they will not leave the next weekend, it is advisable to enforce that agreement and not soften with their argument that it will not happen again. You can be flexible and tolerant, and trust them, but you should always be very clear about the framework of the rules and the limits that they must accept.

MindFixes Staff
MindFixes is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders and advocating, educating, and serving all people with mental and substance use conditions. MindFixes is determined to persevere, learn, grow, love and laugh through our wellness journey and we invite all to join.


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