yes or no roll the dice

Elton John says that sorry is the hardest word.  But for many parents, it’s NO.  I always wonder why.  It’s an innocuous little word, just two letters long.  However, when it comes to its use on our kids,  it is emotionally laden.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with the word no, much to the chagrin of my three young-ish uns.  However, my instincts tell me that the avoidance of the ixnay is a combination of guilt, reticence and attempts to avoid the almighty ‘I hate you’.

Needing some expert opinions, I put the question to Twitter.


@momstownOak:  Guilt for not being around enough/working too much.

@anitawoo  Because it’s hard. Sometimes unpleasant. Sometimes you feel like you’re the one being punished. But you gotta do it…

@Cyn190 A variety reasons: The need 2 be cool. The need 2 be liked. Too lazy 2 follow through. My kids wonder why I don’t say yes. LOL!

@zoe_hicks because they want to be friends with their kids?

@KathleenKaz not worth the fight? I say it a lot – gets easier with time 😉 #parenting

No surprises with these responses.  My intuition was bang on.  But, so what?  Me being right doesn’t solve the behavioural and life-skills problems that a dearth of no-saying creates (of which I don’t need to outline. Just go hang out at the mall. Or Juvie.)

Parenting teenagers is tough-especially when we’re denying them something they want.  But, our job is to keep them safe, teach them to make good choices, and help them to grow up to be productive members of society. All of those come when they learn self-discipline and delayed gratification-both the result of denying their requests on occasion.

If you’re dying to learn the art of the NO but aren’t sure how to finesse it, here are some tips:

Don’t overuse the word:  we call my husband the nay-sayer.  His answer to every request is no.  The kids view his no as a yellow light to nagging, cajoling, and lawyerly-worthy closing statements  Don’t make no your default, is all I’m saying.

Don’t be wishy-washy:  the naysayer is often roped into changing his wishy-washy mind by sneaky teenagers and their cute little faces.  If you say no, stick to your guns. If you turncoat, you will never have another peaceful parenting moment.  Ever.  Develop a hard stare and say: Does NO mean ask again? Because I looked it up in the dictionary, and it actually doesn’t. FYI, there’s nothing wrong with delaying your answer until you’ve thought the thing through.

Be consistent:  your house may not be a democracy, but all of the plebes are equal.  Boys and girls are treated the same at my house, they have the same privileges and rules. If you’re sending have-and-have-not mixed messages, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.  Also, parents of younger kids, start young.  Even the cute ones turn into teenagers. If you never said no before, then good luck starting when they’re taller than you and know how to use the bus.

Pick your battles:  life is full of compromises.  Turn your mind into a set of old fashioned scales.  Think about your answer carefully and wonder if the no is the right answer.  Is the request valid?  is it workable?  Does the teen present a well-thought out case?  There’s nothing wrong with saying yes if the situation allows some flexibility or even compromise.  Change the parameters of the situation, even negotiate (But, if you’re going to do the latter, make sure that your chosen path is the most attractively presented).

Don’t be shy:  I’ve come right out and told my kids that I don’t care if they hate me right at that moment.  I’m their mom, not their friend, and if I have to say no, then I say it.  When push comes to shove,  I’m not afraid of my teenagers or their moods.  This is because I’m the boss of them. The world isn’t always fair, and things don’t always go your way. Shocking lessons to egocentric teenagers.

Explain yourself: There’s nothing wrong with telling your teens why you had to say no.  Just like we don’t want them to lie to us, we shouldn’t beat around the bush with them.  They need to know real life and priorities and give and take.  When kids understand ‘the why’ then they may take your answer more in stride.  I think that it’s the unjustness of the no that seems to trigger much of the drama.

I have to say that my kids have thrived with limits.  They have earned their privileges through trust and not arguing when their requests are shut down.  They’ve learned that accepting my no probably means a yes in their future. They know that clear-cut boundaries exist in their world.

And, funnily enough, they sometimes even ask me to say no.  But, that’s for another story.



  1. No was wasy until about age 12, then instead of the kids just listening because know best or at least make decisions with their best interest in mind, they suddenly question you decision, and your authority to make those decsions about and for them. I have 2 teen sons, and no is the hardest but buck up no one said this was easy. At times rewarding and happy and sometimes no but either way being a good parent is hard work everyday.The good news is they will move out someday and when they ask to come back and live rent free that NO will be easy 🙂

    • Cathy, I think it’s normal that kids start to fight the ‘no’ as they gain independence. It’s hard to hold your ground but when you do, they will thank you for it later. Really? you won’t let them move back? I’ll bet you will…

  2. I have No down because I am the boss of them. But I’m not unreasonable and temper my Nos with many Yesses. The good news is that my husband and I operate with the same manual on this one.

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