Boundaries are healthy – saying no is good for your child


Many parents are reluctant to say “no” to their child, falsely believing that it makes them a bad parent. However, if you don’t say “no” you are doing them a disservice as saying no helps children to navigate emotions and build resilience for situations that don’t meet the child’s expected outcomes.

It is natural that as a parent, you want your child to be happy and, as such, the temptation to respond positively to your child’s wishes can be extremely tempting. However, happiness that is derived from material things is often short-lived. Research has suggested that satisfying your child’s every whim leads to the child becoming more demanding with regards to the latest toys or even a brand new smartphone. The child will foster a sense of being incomplete, and it is something that can only be relieved momentarily with the next new “thing”.

Being Grateful Soon Fades

Of course, your child will be delighted when they receive their new gift, but how long will it be before one of their peers has something that they perceive as being better? At this point, whatever you have bought your child, will become obsolete and no longer provide any sense of satisfaction. If you continually give in to your child’s demands, you are creating a vicious circle, not only for yourself as a parent, but for your child who will suffer a perpetuating sense of dissatisfaction.

When to Say No to a Child

It is perfectly normal to want your child to have the best, things that perhaps you couldn’t have as a child, but this mustn’t overrule your life. Yes, you should allow your child to have some things, perhaps as a reward or because it is an item that they need. However, one of the most valuable lessons that you can teach your child is to appreciate and value what they already have. Genuine happiness doesn’t come from getting what you want, material things; it comes from situations, memories and the people around you.

The Reasons for Not Saying No

Regardless of how old we are, getting what we want all the time is not a good thing. Learning how to accept and cope with not getting what we want is a skill that everyone needs to develop. However, some parents become blinded and invent reasons for not wanting to tell their child they can’t have something. Some of the common reasons include:

  • The parents don’t want to have to deal with their kids being upset or angry. In these cases, the parent needs to be more assertive
  • They feel guilty for not spending time with their children or because of other past experiences
  • They want to be friends with their children which is positive in some respects as it can often lead to better communication. However, it is vital to appreciate that this is not the primary role for any parent, and their role should be to provide sound adult guidance
  • They have a missed placed belief that their children should have everything
  • They want their children to have what they missed out on

Parents who do have a problem with saying no to their children will find it extremely difficult, as will their children when they do start imposing limitations on their children’s demands.

How to Say No to a Child

Saying no to a child is a way of setting limits and boundaries. Of course, boundaries and limits are there to be tested, and this is inevitably what your child will do. It is essential that when you say “no”, you mean it. There will be tantrums, begging and pleading as well as anger. These will all pass as they are both signs of distress (at not getting what they want) and also testing if you really mean what you say.

Never get angry when you do say “no”. In some instances, an explanation may be justified, but this should only be if your child has accepted no in a reasonable manner or after they have calmed down. However, it is not always necessary to explain, and you should certainly never back down as this is the start of a slippery slope. Consistency is the key, and you will find that children will rapidly start to accept the limits and offer less resistance.

However, if you do relent because of your child causing a drama, making you feel guilty or crying for long enough, it is something that you will have to cope with for the rest of your life. They will know that you will back down if they persist long enough. Sadly, your child may find interactions with other children and adults hard along with finding it difficult to gain employment.

When you do say no, you should do all you can from your point of view to minimize any drama. You should be straightforward with your response, maybe even try to inject some humor into a potentially tense situation and this could make the situation pass relatively event free. Typical phrases that can be used are “No way, Jose” or just a straightforward “No way, that’s not happening”. The answers should be repeated, if necessary, to almost make a game of their demands.

Parents Must Unite

If there are two parents involved in the discussions, both must agree on saying no. If one member backs down, it will become impossible to enforce limits. Any conflict will undermine the parents’ argument, which even the youngest of children will understand strengthens their chances of getting what they want. Parents’ not agreeing is a complex issue and will divert us away from the point, but singing from the same song sheet in these circumstances is the best way to get the optimum response.

All children benefit from having limits imposed on them and a structure to their life. Parents must also have the strength to acknowledge that they may incur the wrath of their child and be prepared to risk that and have the courage to withstand the emotional attacks that may come. Coping with this distress is one of the hardest things for any parent, but in doing so, you are being a good parent.


There isn’t a parent in the world that is happy when their children are upset or angry with them. However, if you always back down, you are creating an unrealistic view of the world for your children and one that is incredibly unhealthy. Delaying gratification is important, and it will help to make your child more resilient. They will also be able to develop life skills that they will take with them on their journey into and through adulthood.