Hey Kids – Just say “NO!” But you’ve been programmed to say “YES!”

Teach Kids How to Say No

I’m going to call it “The Great Parenting Paradox”. Kids are told to “JUST SAY NO!” after they’ve been conditioned since their first “NO” to say “YES”.

Countless parenting articles offer advice for turning a child’s “NO” into “YES”. Learning “NO” is important for child development yet adults unrealistically expect kids who have been encouraged during the 1st decade of their life to be agreeably compliant to suddenly have the ability to set and maintain boundaries with peers. The courage to say “NO” with conviction is crucial for tweens/teens when confronted with inappropriate, harmful, dangerous and/or illegal behavior and situations.


However adults have been teaching kids “KEEP CALM and SAY YES” since they were toddlers. Toddlers are masters of “NO!”. Studies show they can say it 20 to 25 times an hour! “NO” is one of the first words a baby will say.  

say yesThe Parents.com article misleadingly entitled “Why Toddlers Always Say “No!: Your child suddenly has opinions about everything. Find out why that’s a good thing” gives one powerful reason why: “Kids this age are realizing that they can assert themselves, and arguing with you is one way they gain confidence,” says John Sargent, MD.  Saying no is a normal, healthy way for a child to feel in control. But an accurate title for the article would have been “Turn Your ‘NO’ kid into a ‘YES’ kid” since the remaining 90% of the article tells parents “Try these strategies to turn your talking-back toddler into a “yes” kid


Renowned pediatrician Dr. Bill Searss website articleHow To Say No“: “It’s necessary for a parent to say “no” to a child so the child can later say “no” to himself. Learning to accept “no” from someone else is a prelude to saying “no” to herself.” The article gives 18 respectful strategies for saying “NO” to a child and it includes two positive strategies for listening to and supporting a child’s “NO”.

Strategy #11: Prepare to be on the receiving end of “no.” Saying “no” is important for a child’s development, and for establishing his identity as an individual. This is not defiance or a rejection of your authority. Parents can learn to respect individual wishes and still stay in charge and maintain limits. As your child gets older, the ability to get along with peers in certain situations (stealing, cheating, drugs, and so on), will depend on her ability to learn how to say no.

Strategy #18: When your child won’t accept NO: Children, especially those with a strong will, try to wear parents down. They are convinced they must have something or their world can’t go on. They pester and badger until you say “yes” just to stop the wear and tear on your nerves. This is faulty discipline. If however, your child’s request seems reasonable after careful listening, be willing to negotiate. Sometimes you may find it wise to change your mind after saying “no”. While you want your child to believe your “no” means no, you also want your child to feel you are approachable and flexible. It helps to hold your “no” until you’ve heard your child out. If you sense your child is uncharacteristically crushed or angry at your “no,” listen to her side. Maybe she has a point you hadn’t considered or her request is a bigger deal to her than you imagined. Be open to reversing your decision, if warranted. Make sure, though, that she realizes it was not her “wear down” tactics that got the reversal of your decision.

I believe teaching kids how to effectively use “NO” starting at the toddler stage will lay the foundation for the strategies and skills they’ll need once they are tweens and teens entering the complex world of adulthood. Early education of the positive power of “NO!” would have a long-term beneficial impact on peer pressure, bullying and teen dating violence.



Published by Cara Zara

Professional entertainer and educator Cara Zara has performed at festivals, events, libraries, charity functions, and summer camps throughout the Southeast and has interacted with over 250,000 children. She has been teaching her popular programs since 2011 and has taught at over 200 private and public schools throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. She loves inspiring children to learn and be physically active through fun movement and laughter.

2 thoughts on “Hey Kids – Just say “NO!” But you’ve been programmed to say “YES!”

  1. Interesting! How do we get the balance right between letting kids get away with whatever they want, and teaching them to be compliant and do what others want – which is not always ideal for teenagers as you rightly point out. Thank you.

  2. Good question… I’ll just chat about the younger kids (or my response will be long…) Maybe it starts with baby steps (pardon the pun). Toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartens have pretty funny requests and as a parent I understand that some are socially cringe worthy. Quirky demands from a kid may illicit eyebrow raising from some onlookers (like your kid wearing a batman cape and mask with a bathing suit to the grocery store – not on Halloween – in mid-July). In the big picture that’s a pretty harmless albeit possibly dreadfully embarrassing moment for a parent in the store but an easy way to accept “NO!” from their child. To a little kid her Batman cape and mask may mean something REALLY important and super cool. Letting a child wear that silly outfit can give her/him a sense of independence. Taking it one baby step further …. MAYBE we should toss back their 2nd favorite word “Why?” when they say “NO!” and turn it into a teaching lesson. “Hey buck-a-roo if you want to be Batman meets Jimmy Buffett at the grocery store give me more info before I say yes.” 🙂 Yes I realize that time doesn’t allow for that kind of exchange on the 20-25 times a kid says “NO! per hour. I’m also not saying that every situation should be negotiated “Sorry dude but you can’t be Batman Jimmy at your aunt’s wedding” but there are probably times that could be turned into a “Let’s practice saying NO!” experience. Maybe the litmus test for “is this a good/easy learning experience?” would be did this “NO!” make you chuckle when your child said it. Your thoughts?

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