ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Avoid a Power Struggle with Kids: How to Say No

Updated on November 19, 2021
Blake Flannery profile image

Blake has worked in the mental health field since 2002 educating and inspiring hope on the journey toward recovery.

Setting Limits with Kids Without Saying "No"

When kids get old enough to understand the word no, they are old enough to tantrum when they hear it. Anyone who has experienced saying no to kids knows that the word no becomes a trigger for acting out. Finding an alternative to the word no can help you create less adversarial interactions with kids.

Usually there are options that allow a parent or care giver to use other words to set limits with kids besides the word no. Unfortunately habits of language have been built over years for most adults, so changing verbal intervention styles can take some time. Identifying the common problems with using the word no as well as the variety of alternatives that may work better is the beginning of improvement.

What is Wrong with Saying No to Kids?

  • No Options: When kids hear no, they don't hear options. Kids have a short attention span like most adults, and tend to focus on the first words that come out of people's mouths.
  • No Explanation: We've all heard the proverbial, "because I said so." When a parent or caregiver says "no," there is a tendency to fail at explaining the reason for the answer. In this regard the word no becomes rigid and cold.
  • No Learning: The word no lacks an invitation for learning the way other limit setting forces a person to learn to make a decision.
  • No Further Discussion: The word no has the goal of compliance without questioning. Encouraging further discussion with kids encourages improved communication and negotiation skills.
  • No Grey Area: As kids get older, they develop the ability to think in more complex and abstract ways. If a person thinks in absolutes such as yes and no, an opportunity to evaluate in balanced ways is lost.

How to Say No to Kids

Give useful information instead of saying no.
Give useful information instead of saying no.

1. Say Yes and Give Options

The most simple way to avoid saying no to a child is by saying yes. This is not to say you let your kid do anything anytime. This would result in a spoiled child. When you say yes, make sure to give two options that you are willing to follow through with whether your child chooses either option. It's best to give the desirable option first, since kids focus on what is heard first, if you are going to give a positive and negative consequence choice.

Kid: "Can I have a cookie?"

Parent: "Yes, you may have a cookie now or after lunch. Which do you choose?"

2. Say No, but Explain Why

Sometimes no must be said for the sake of safety or any other non-negotiable reason. In this case, saying no is no problem as long as a good explanation is given. Generally a "No, because..." works much better than a simple "no." Explanations allow the person being told no to feel worthy of an explanation, avoiding feelings of being talked down to.

Kid: "Can I go swimming"

Parent: "No, I'm not able to watch you swim right now because I'm busy, but I will be done with my work in an hour. Could you wait to go swimming when I am able to watch you and make sure you are safe?"

3. Ask a Question

The word no may neglect to allow for useful discussion and mutual understanding. Socrates knew that asking questions lead to more learning than simple lecturing. As a great thinker and philosopher he asked questions until understanding and wisdom was the result. This is a great alternative to saying no.

Kid: "Can my friend spend the night tonight?"

Parent: "It's Tuesday night tonight and you'll have to get up early for school tomorrow. That means you'll only have a couple hours to play before you have to go to bed. Would you rather have your friend over on the weekend instead?"

4. Empathize with Kids

Sometimes the word no isn't as much of the problem for the kid as his perception that the adult is not listening or understanding what he wants. A simple empathic response, showing an understanding of how the child feels, can help a parent avoid an adversarial position.

Kid: "Buy me that toy mommy."

Parent: "I understand that I have bought you toys in the past when we've come to Target, and this has become something that you expect each time we come, but this time we are only here to buy charcoal for the grill so we can have dinner. I would like to look around and buy other things too, but we aren't going to be able to do that today."

5. Explain the Appropriate Context

Not everything is black or white. Many decisions have consequences that must be weighed when making a decision. Explaining the appropriate context for a behavior is a good way to avoid saying no and creating black and white thinking. For example, telling a child "no hitting" or "no lying" becomes difficult to understand when there are exceptions. Give an explanation of the few exceptions when these behaviors are acceptable.

Kid: Hits another kid (it's tempting to say "no hitting)

Parent: "Hands are for helping ourselves and our friends. High fives and pats on the back are a nice ways of hitting others. Could you give your friend a high five?"

Conclusion about Saying No to Kids

In conclusion, kids are easily triggered by hearing no for several reasons. They may have been conditioned to respond negatively because of the way the word no has been used. They may not hear much after the word no because they focus on the first thing said. Or, they may not see any possibility of negotiation with adults resulting in feelings of inferiority and loss of power. Some children may have been bullied by an adult who used the word "no" often.

In any case, the word no is not the problem. The attitude and interest of the adult saying no is likely the source of conflict, or a traumatic event has occurred in the child's history creating a reaction to the word no. As you become more aware and empathize with the feelings of the child, you will find yourself willing to explain, question, and give options more often. Then your child will have no problem hearing you because he will know you care.

About the Author, Blake Flannery

Blake Flannery works with youth stabilizing from crisis events on a behavioral health services inpatient hospital unit. He has learned these techniques from various sources and wants to share these ideas with others to give parents and caregivers options for limit setting that are respectful and non-adversarial toward kids.

Frequency of the Use of the Word No

Did adults use the word "no" too much for you when you were a child?

See results

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)