We’d love to hear from you as a parent.
How do you say “no” when your child asks for something she or he does not need?
Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Say “no” with firm but gentle resolve.
A Christian woman who worked as a secretary among psychologists and psychiatrists told me that she often heard these professionals say to parents, “If you’re going to give in to your children, give in within the first two minutes. If you keep saying ‘no’ for 20 minutes and then give in, they learn to argue with you for 20 minutes. If you keep saying ‘no’ for 30 minutes, but then give in, they learn to argue with you for 30 minutes.”
An adult daughter recalled from her childhood how her mother would grow exhausted when she and her siblings whined long enough and would finally give in to their demands. Now in her thirties with children of her own, this woman told me, “My mother did us no favors by giving in.”
We need to let our yes be yes and our no be no (see Jesus’ very words on this in Matthew 5:37). The apostle Paul argues against the silly notion of letting yes become a no or no become a yes (2 Corinthians 1:17).
Can you change your mind? Yes. New information, new decision.
2. Say “no” with a careful tone of voice.
You can be absolutely correct in refusing persistent requests that are unwise or unnecessary, but you can be absolutely wrong in doing so at the top of your voice.
Guard against winding up in aisle 4 at the department store and shrieking, “No! You cannot buy that Mickey Mouse watch, so put it back on the shelf!”
3. Say “no” by redirecting.
For example, you might say, “No, we cannot buy those Converse tennis shoes right now, but on the way home let’s discuss a way that it might work. Those are great shoes, and I want you to have them.”
4. Help the child see that sometimes “no” means “wait.”
You can say, “No, you cannot have that, but who knows? Maybe that is something you might receive at your birthday.” Children mature as they learn to delay gratification.
When appropriate, explain to your child that you must say “no” for his welfare. “No, you are seven years old and the law says that is too young to ride a motor scooter. I know you are disappointed, but when you are older, we can talk about it.”
5. Say “no” by negotiating.
I do not mean arguing or debating with your child. I mean meeting him or her halfway (or three quarters, or whatever seems best). Make offers like, “I will pay half, but you will need to earn the other half with extra chores.”
Negotiating creates conditions for your giving, and this can be a great teaching tool.
Negotiating gives our children an opportunity to learn about working for what they want.
Here’s a prayer from Proverbs 30 that you can pray for your kids:
“…Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or that I not be in want and steal and profane the name of my God.”
Again, how do you say “no” when your child asks for something she or he does not need?