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How (and why) to Say No to Children


  • "My child just yells at me angrily or she’ll flat out refuse to do what I ask."

  • “She just rules the roost; there’s nothing we can do.”

  • “The way she treats me is all about her. All the time!”

Resonate? You aren’t alone. Those are direct quotes from my clients.

Today’s win-at-all-costs culture combined with the parenting pendulum which has swung from ‘children’s behavior’ to ‘children’s emotions’ opens the door to “mini-democracies”, where children's opinions are equal to those of their parents. In some households, parents sacrifice their own needs for their child's 'happiness'.

And that never feels good - for you or for them.

But I thought we were supposed to respect kids and listen to them? Yes, but parents still need to be in charge to create a secure and stable environment.

The juxtaposition of those concepts can be very confusing, IMHO.

In addition, many parents simply put their children first: prioritizing ourselves, finding ‘courage’ to say no, tolerating our child's discomfort. All of these things make saying ‘No’ difficult.


Acquiescing our parental authority correlates positively with an exponential rise in anxiety and depression disorders in children and teens.


Respect the emotion and determine the behavior:

  • Respect the emotion: All emotions are acceptable. Respect is having interest in their feelings and point of view…and trusting that they can handle an upset. (It also includes our willingness to take ownership for our piece of the problem.)

  • Determine the behavior: Parenting isn’t a democracy – we decide what is permissible (obviously the extent of this changes as they get older) and set limits and boundaries.

Being able to say no and calmly stick to our boundaries shows kids that you are in charge and that they are safe; they can rely on us to get through challenging moments - even if they are yelling, refusing, ignoring, or melting down about something they want.


Craving pizza, feeling crazy at the thought of stopping the video game, preferring to be with you: those are all real feelings. You can respect them, calmly say no and stick to your boundaries.

  • “Ordering pizza isn’t an option for dinner tonight. We could order some on Friday night when you’ll be watching the game with Dad.”

  • “It’s time to get off of the video, as we agreed. I know you don’t like having to stop. My job is to help you stick to our agreements even when you are upset with me.”

  • “I am on a business call, and you can’t be here. I understand you are bored and this is important for me. I will be with you to take you swimming afterwards.”

  • “Two things are true: you are allowed to have your feelings (mad, frustrated, sad) AND I’m sticking to my boundaries. I love you.”


Secure boundaries set by the parent (not negotiated by the child) reduce anxiety. They don’t make you a mean or unfair parent, despite what your child says. Next time your child tries to negotiate more video time or less homework time, try a version of one of the scripts.

Then bite your tongue. Watch what happens and let me know.

Even though they’ll rarely say it aloud, kids need us to have the backbone.

Easier said than done. And you don't have to do it alone. Grab a free assessment here (or just reply to the email); I’ll help you untangle what’s going on and map out the next steps in transforming your family dynamic.

I've been there, and I can help,


P.S. If you're feeling like reading about how and why it works just isn't going to cut it - because you need more concrete, customized steps for your family and its own unique issues, then take advantage of the free assessment I offer.


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