What it Means When Children Say “No!”

We have been amazed at how much good parenting information is in children’s picture books – books that we hope you are reading everyday to the children in your lives – your own, your class, those you take care of.  We will be pointing these parenting gems out to you so that every time you read one of our featured books to a child you will be reminded of the parent you want to be.

Featured Picture Book

ELLA SARAH GETS DRESSED by Margaret Chodos-Irvine.

(Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.)

In ELLA SARAH GETS DRESSED, Ella Sarah awakes one morning, looks in her closet and knows exactly what she wants to wear. But, it isn’t what Mom has in mind, or Dad, or big sister. Ella Sarah says “no” to each one, more and more strongly. She ends up following her own mind only to learn that each of her friends has their very own fun ideas about fashion as well.

Parenting Thoughts
Kids saying “no”

What’s it like for you when a 2- or 3-year-old child shows you he has a mind of his own and his favorite word is “no”?  Does it make you angry? Do you think, “He should have more respect for me.  Saying no to an adult is not acceptable.”  Or, afraid of what’s coming next do you think, “I better give in so there won’t be a tantrum.”

Let’s think if either one of those reactions are best for kiddos.

When children say no, they are thinking for themselves.  Developing your own mind and knowing what you want is something we all need to do.  How good at that are you?  I have known plenty of adults who are so used to not thinking for themselves that they have ended up in all sorts of situations that are bad for them.  Or, they have denied what they want for so long they truly don’t even know what they want anymore and can’t make any decisions with confidence.

Seeing adults who don’t know their own minds and can’t look out for themselves is proof enough that we need to find ways to encourage children to learn to think for themselves and know what they want and don’t want – in acceptable ways, of course.  This awareness on their part will be especially helpful to them once peer pressure comes into their lives. It will make them a better decision-maker.  It will help them develop confidence in their ideas and determination for achieving their goals.  Aren’t all these things you want for your children?  One young boy I once heard about said this was learning to be a “good chooser.”

How do we encourage them to know what they want and become a good chooser?  Give them choices.  Just remember that fewer options when giving a choice are better than many options and better than an open-ended choice.  “Do you want carrots or celery for a snack?” is better than “Do you want carrots, celery, crackers or peanuts?” and better than “What do you want for a snack?”

How to say no

Learning how to say no is an important thing to learn.  Think about yourself.   When was the last time you said yes when you should have said no?  Did you agree to a job at church that you really didn’t have time for?  Did you agree to help someone move, when you hadn’t had a day off work for two weeks?  It’s actually a good thing to know how and when to say no. Remember the “just say no” campaign directed at teenagers?  It was about saying no to drugs.  That campaign was useless for kids who had been punished over and over again for saying no when they were very young.

Does this mean we should just let kids do anything they want to at these no-saying ages (usually 2-3)?  Absolutely not.  But, it does mean that we can insist on their doing what they are told while still understanding that they are beginning to think for themselves and telling them that we see that they have their own ideas.  We can allow the no saying, but not the no doing.  We can tell them we will let them complain but they still have to do what they are told. And, if tantrums are part of the reaction on their part, we can tell them we won’t let them hurt people or things while they are mad and frustrated.  We can use our friendly muscles to hold them or move them in order to protect them and insist they do things like get out of a car or go in or out of a store.

Another thing I want to mention is the importance of our language.  How we say things may seem like a minor thing, but it is surprisingly important.  When giving directions to kids, don’t ask them – tell them.  Don’t say, “Do you want to get dressed?” if the message you are trying to send is, “It’s time to get dressed.”

And, when we are giving a direction, don’t use “OK” at the end.  “We’re getting dressed now, OK?” this turns a statement into a question.  Only ask a question like that if you are prepared to accept whatever answer you get. If you ask, “Do you want to get dressed?” you are saying its OK if you do and OK if you don’t.  Next time you are in a group of adults and children together, listen for how many OK’s are at the end of sentences.  Most of those times were intended to be directions but were turned into what I call marshmallow questions – soft, sticky and messy.

One more way we are too soft about saying “no” is when we use what Jean Illsley Clarke calls “crooked no’s.”  A crooked no is saying “yes” when you really want to say no.  When you use one of these crooked no’s it usually means you will end up never really doing what you said yes to or at least not doing it willingly or doing it well.

The moral of the story is that there are respectful ways to say no.  Say it straight.  If you need to give kids directions, use a clear, straightforward statement and don’t end it with “OK?”.  And, don’t say yes when you mean no.

Daily Parenting Tip

What kind of parent do you want to be?  Or grandparent, teacher or caregiver?  A GREAT one! You can be that type of parent, grandparent, teacher or caregiver – just “Decide and Practice.”

DECIDE what you are going to think about the kids in your life.

DECIDE what you are going to feel about the kids in your life.

DECIDE how you are going to act with the kids in your life.


May 15

Decide:           You like each child for who he is.

Practice:         Take a child to his closet and let him pick out his own outfit. Tell him you like how he made his own choices about what he liked.   Ask her why she likes what she selected.  Say thanks for telling me what you like.  Tell her you love who she is.

Today’s Decide and Practice daily parenting tip was inspired by our featured picture book, ELLA SARAH GETS DRESSED.  Read the book to a child in your life each day as a reminder of what you are deciding and practicing that day.

Come back each day for another good parenting decision and how to practice it. (Each day’s activity will also be posted on Daily Parenting Tips page for easy access.)

Read All About It

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH, Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David J. Bredehoft

GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson


TIME-IN, Jean Illsley Clarke

Surf the Internet:

saying no respectfully

taking initiative



terrible twos

terrific twos

kids saying no

giving children choices



Teacher’s Corner

Teachers, this is your place.  Read all about how to use this blog in your classroom on the Teacher’s Corner page.

Here are our newest ideas based on What it Means When Children Say “No!”

Have students read the blog and write about:

  • Peer pressure and how they handle it
  • Ways that they are unique
  • Their likes and dislikes
  • How they make decisions
  • A time they were glad they said “no”

What do you think?

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