Once Is Enough: Tips to Tell Your Child "No"

If you think it's hard to tell your child "no," we can give you some strategies to make it easier for you. Check them out!
Once Is Enough: Tips to Tell Your Child "No"
María José Roldán

Written and verified by the psychopedagogue María José Roldán.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Being a parent isn’t easy, no matter what you might hear. It’s the most complicated job you’ll ever have in your life. At the same time, it’s also the most rewarding. Sometimes parenting can feel like a heartbreak. As a parent, you always want to see a smile on your child’s face, and it can be hard to tell your child “no.”

How to tell your child “no” easily and without feeling guilty

Saying “no” seems very complicated. In fact, doing it the wrong way can cause long-term emotional damage to your children. However, doing it the right way will give you a chance to raise your children well and be happy. Also, you can give them the tools to control their emotions, like frustration.

Once is enough

You have to be firm when you say “no,” so it’s best not to back down. Use a serious facial expression and communicate why your child isn’t getting what they want. If the first “no” doesn’t work, try finding a different approach, like finding ways to say “yes.”

Once Is Enough: Tips to Tell Your Child "No"

It’s a big mistake to give in. If your child learns that they can bully you into saying “yes,” they’ll also learn to manipulate you when they want something. Explain that sometimes saying “no” isn’t enough. Children might not understand and are likely to repeat bad behavior, unless you explain it.

Tell your child “no” – give valid reasons

The most effective way to say “no” is to give valid reasons that your child can understand. Children hear “no” too many times, impairing their language development and potentially causing resentment.

It’s entirely possible to say “yes” while meaning “no.” For example, if your child asks for a cookie, you can answer, “Yes, you can have a cookie after diner.” If they ask you for a new toy while shopping, you can say, “Yes, if this is what you want, you can ask for it for Christmas.”

This way, your child has the opportunity to get what they want on a special day and learn to compromise.

Don’t scream

Yelling at your children can be as bad as corporal punishment, and it could cause behavioral problems and emotional development problems. The consequences of yelling at children outweigh any possible benefits of temporarily silencing them.

Yelling can cause depression and self-esteem problems. Therefore, it’s important to learn to communicate calmly and kindly. Persistent requests are often due to boredom. Paying attention to your children when talking or playing with them can quickly redirect the topic to something more positive.

Respect their privacy

Don’t embarrass your child in front of other people. Get their attention, go to a private place, and clearly communicate why you said “no.” Your child may resent you if you don’t respect them in public, especially if other people make fun of them. Remember, if you embarrass your child in public, they’ll learn to do the same to you!

Say “no” with an alternative

Giving other options can convince your child that you aren’t rejecting their request. For example, “No, honey, you can’t eat sweets, you can have an apple instead” offers an alternative and opens the door to an explanation of the health benefits of apples over candy.

Once Is Enough: Tips to Tell Your Child "No"

Don’t give false hope

Parents often say, “Not now, dear.” If not now, when? If you don’t follow through with your unspoken promise, your child might start to have trust issuesGive a specific time frame that your child can wait for what they want. For example, “Not now, dear. We can give it to you for your birthday.”

Tell you child “no” – let your child choose

Choosing empowers children and makes them feel like their opinions are important. Then, they won’t feel ignored since they can make a choice. For example, you can decline a request for candy and ask if there is a fruit they would like instead, reminding them of how healthy they are.

However, letting them choose anything can cause them to make a poor choice that you’ll have to deny, which makes them feel like their opinions don’t matter.

Don’t contradict your partner

Sometimes a parent says “no” only for the child to go to the other parent to get a “yes.” In fact, this can cause conflict between parents and teach your child how to manipulate. You and your partner must communicateit’s easy to ask if a decision has already been made. 

Saying “no” can be hard, since you want to make your children happy, and it’s much easier, at least for the moment, to give in to what they want. Screaming is also much easier. However, given the long-term side effects, it’s important to spend time learning to communicate calmly and effectively.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.