Parents Corner

How to Say “No” to Your Child


Limits and rules keep children safe and help them grow into responsible, moral, and thoughtful adults. They also help children develop behavioural and impulse control. There are absolutely times when you have to say “no” to your child, but as every parent knows, this is not always simple or pleasant.

Every child needs to work out who they are as a unique individual. This is called ‘autonomy’ and it’s about deciding what you want and don’t want, like and don’t like, and making choices accordingly. Children aged between 18 months and 3 years especially need to flex their ‘autonomy’ muscles and that’s why we often hear a whole lot of “NO” from toddlers!

At the same time, everything in a child’s life is largely decided for them – when and what they eat, what activities they do, who they see, when they sleep, and so on. As adults, we can sometimes forget this. This is not to say that children should be left to their own devices, there’s a good reason why responsible adults are in charge. But what we can do is support children to make choices where appropriate and safe.

Consider your child’s age and stage of development when offering choices. For younger children, open-ended choices can be overwhelming, so start with offering 2 or 3 options. For example, we can offer a 2-year-old girl the option to wear her hair out or in a ponytail. For older children and young people, you will need to offer some ‘brain storming’ to support their decision-making process. Sit down together, identify all options, discuss the pros and cons of each, and then allow your child or teen to pick the best solution.

Balance out your “no”s with “yes”s. Imagine if all you heard was “no”, you would feel pretty fed up too! We can get in a habit of automatically dismissing a child’s requests. Instead, try using a ‘yes with conditions’, for example, “yes, we can read a story after you’ve brushed your teeth”.

When children are given plenty of developmentally appropriate opportunities to make decisions about the things that affect them, they don’t need to fight us on every “no”.

Article Written + Submitted by

Monica Purcell | Family Facilitator

Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services


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