Telling Our Children “No”

Posted on Posted in Children

Telling a child no is a controversial topic.

On one side of the debate, there have been entire books published about why we shouldn’t tell our children no.  The reasonings repeated most tither from, “It just teaches them to say ‘no’ back to you,” to reasoning like, “They don’t understand when they are young–it just hurts their feelings” and “If you have to tell them ‘no’ it’s because you haven’t been an attentive enough parent to prevent the situation.”  Lastly, “they will learn what to do and what not to do in due time.”

On the other side of the debate, telling a child no leads to an earlier standard of obedience as well as–let’s face it–it could save their life one day.

Which side of the debate are you on?

No! No! NO! Are you the type of parent who tells a child "No"?

Research shows (and mommies will tell you) that when a babe first starts teething around 6 months of age–and consequently biting during breastfeeding (or a bottle)–a babe understands mom’s reaction.

If she jumps in shock, and then gives a gentle giggle to convey to babe that she’s okay; then babe begins to gather that she’s done something mom thinks is fun.

On the other hand, mom’s who are consistently saying no with gentle technique are generally able to get their babe’s to stop biting.  In other words, at this gentle age a child can learn to understand “no”–far before the years of learning to say it back.

What we get out of this is that from young ages, children are able to understand “no” when taught correctly.  (Obviously yelling, or taking breast/bottle away from a hungry babe is not correctly teaching no but just confusing and hurtful.)

The conclusion is that children understand no from early ages.  However, it is too early in the debate to toss out the view that telling a child no simply just “hurts their feelings.”  Sometimes it does.


Rapidly disappearing is the generation that was always told no.  As adults, they are highly functional and able to obtain what they need (and sometimes desire) by themselves.  Their feelings aren’t hurt when someone else doesn’t come along and get them what they need or want.  They know they need to be responsible for themselves.

I grew up in a home where I was told (with love) “no” very often.  I could not have what I wanted all the time.  I could not go where I wanted all the time.  I could not wear whatever I wanted anytime I wanted.  The result as a young adult was that my feelings just weren’t hurt because things didn’t go my way.

My parents did a wonderful service to me by teaching me I couldn’t have whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.  I learned to be content with God’s blessings and not pity myself over trivial things.


And then something happened.  Near 30 years of age, I met a man who treated me like royalty.  I have been spoiled ever since then.  These days, my husband rarely tells me no.  But when he does, boy, wow, yeah…it can hurt my feelings no matter how gentle it comes.  I can completely see how a child who is never told no would feel when it does happen.

Yes, it hurts.  But it can be a good hurt–meaning it’s for one’s own good to be told no occasionally.


How many times did Jesus tell His disciples “no”?  It wasn’t because He couldn’t provide.  It was for their good.

How many times does God tell us “no”?  Rest assured, it is for our own good.


On the other hand, being told no in an unhealthy manner, can be inappropriate.

There are definitely times when parents (across the board) have told their children no for selfish reasons.  Perhaps Johnny is going through a growth spurt and asks his mother for a snack and she doesn’t want to get off the phone or computer and passively states, “Not now Johnny, dinner is in a few hours.” Perhaps little Johnny really is having hunger pains and needs food.  Haven’t we all been here?  Isn’t this a place where none of us want to be?


Other times when we should say no, we don’t.  Times when other people might be in earshot and we are worried more about the judgement they may have on us as parents rather than what really isn’t best for our children.  Don’t think so? How about in church?  Or at the grocery store?  Hmm….  How about times when it’s just easier to say yes than no?


No doubt, telling someone we love such as our children no, can be a hard thing to do.  But so often, it is also the most loving thing to do.


Where do you draw the line in telling your children no, and letting them sort it out themselves?  Which side of the debate are you on?  (Inappropriate comments and those attacking another commenter will not be published.  Please, let us be kind to one another.)


8 thoughts on “Telling Our Children “No”

  1. Well, my children are grown and now I have grandchildren. If you were to ask my children if I said no too often, they probably would tell you at the time yes, but now when they look back, no I didn’t. Because I was the parent and I knew what was best for them. Parents need to stop being afraid of their children’s reactions and start parenting. We say no for a number of reasons like you stated above. But, most importantly, our Father in Heaven says no to us and it is for our own good. Even if we don’t always agree.

    1. There is definitely a rise in parents afraid of their children’s reactions–and bystanders as well. May we all be strengthened to take our loving Father’s example and say no when it is needed.

  2. I think it is critical that we, as parents, do tell our kids “no.” My daughter is just 10 months old, yet she hears it and understands it. She doesn’t know what is best for herself, so it is my God-given responsibility (my privilege, really) to guide her.
    Like every parent, I’m imperfect so I sometimes say “no” when I shouldn’t and sometimes say “yes” when I should say “no,” but at the end of the day, I try to be consistent. I think this consistency is so crucial if we are to have obedient kids.

  3. Saying “no” is so difficult sometimes, but I agree that consistency is best. When I feel myself waffle, I remind myself of a family member who was told “no” half-heartedly. When her parents gave in (as they usually did), she continued to push the boundaries. Unfortunately, now she is a drug addict. While I’m certain there are other reasons, I have always credited her parents’ inability to say “no” and mean it with teaching her uncertain boundaries and leading her to the dangerous place she is in today.

    So I tell myself now when it’s hard that I love my child(ren) enough to say “no” now and mean it.

  4. We say “no” to our 1yr old. However, we prefer simple phrases to just “no”.
    We often use “don’t touch” “come to momma/daddy” “stay in here” and other direct phrases to communicate our wishes.

    No is for the big things. Like the other day he grabbed hold of something very unsafe and I couldn’t reach him in time to do anything. A sharp NO startled him into letting go and sitting down. At which point I was able to get to him and do a small training session on why I said no.

    Kids are way smarter than most “professionals” give them credit for.

    1. We indirectly told most of our children no in other ways as well. “Let’s not touch that,” etc. It wasn’t until my third that I really had to use the big “No.”
      Great example of telling our children NO to keep them safe Kendra.
      Kids never cease to amaze us all in just how smart they really are 🙂 .

  5. I think you’re in the same place as most of us other mothers Sarah. We’re all trying our best to raise them up right with love and gentleness. It’s not always easy to know when to say yes or no.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.