Guest Post: The Power of ‘No’

by Abby on April 2, 2012

If you ask me, one of the hardest parts about being a parent is having to be the bad guy. And not just occasionally, like “No, sweetie, you can’t drive the car until you’re 16,” but constantly: “No, you can’t drink syrup from the bottle” and “No, you can’t pee in the neighbors’ rose bush” and “No, your friend with the piercing voice and terrible manners can’t come over to play!” Sometimes it just seems SO much easier to say yes.

Mean Moms Rule, by Denise SchipaniToday’s guest blogger is here to show us why we parents need to stick to our guns. Welcome, Denise Schipani, author of the new book, Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later.

The Power of ‘No’

How do you feel about the word “no”?

Me, I love it. The more I say it, the more I love it. Because I’ve figured out its awesome power, its lasting effects.

But before I get to no, let’s talk about yes. We live in a pretty yes-happy time, don’t we? Yes is easy – it fits in with our have-it-all, have-it-now culture. Want something? Here it is – no waiting! Saying yes to our kids feels good (though I argue it’s temporary, until the next request, and the more you say yes, the faster the requests come). Yes boosts your mom ego (look at me, making my kid happy!). Yes is quick, it’s expedient, it short-circuits tantrums (or, I argue, it kicks a tantrum down the road; they’ll have another one the next time).

But here’s what’s great about a firm, well-placed, unapologetic, serene no:

No is power. Every time you say no you express to your kids your buck-stops-here place in the house. I am not a dictator – there’s always room for discussion and negotiation – but if there’s a rule (no Wii before homework, say), and you consistently (if kindly!) say no whenever your second-grader asks you to bend the rule, you remain in control. And his grumbling and foot stomping end up more cute than terrorizing.

No presents a teachable moment. Every time you have a darned good reason to say no, you’re handed a custom-made opportunity to teach a mini-lesson about your family’s values or budget or, well, whatever. Let’s say you have to say no to a birthday-party invite because it conflicts with a soccer game, and your child has already missed a game. Saying no to the party is a way to demonstrate that, as hard as it can be sometimes, when you make a commitment (in this case, to your team) you should stick to it as best you can.

No builds character. This one is pretty simple. Kids who hear yes all the time grow up thinking they deserve to hear yes all the time. This does not look pretty when the “kids” in question are college students who think nothing of asking a professor to give them a make-up exam because they didn’t have a chance to study – and who expect a yes. Yikes.

No promotes critical thinking. Like, “No, we can’t order the Magic Moon Glow Worms you saw on TV, because we don’t automatically trust information presented in commercials, and here’s why: They are not magic, they probably don’t really glow, and anyway, they are not worth $19.99 plus shipping.”

Finally, no makes an eventual yes that much sweeter and more meaningful. If you’ve consistently told your children no when they angle for a vending machine treat, and for good reason (no one needs the crack that is nacho cheese, right?), but there’s that one day when the stars align and the kids have been patient through a boring shopping trip, say, or you just feel like bestowing a little cheese-flavored smile on them, you can feel free. Whereas if you’ve said yes all along, all you have are kids with orange-stained lips and a big sense of entitlement. And no quarters in your wallet!

So try it with me. Say no. Smile. Don’t apologize. And repeat as necessary. Because you’re going to have to!

Denise SchipaniDenise Schipani is the mother of two boys and the author of Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later (Sourcebooks). She blogs at Mean Moms Rule.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali April 2, 2012 at 7:49 am

I think in the long run, kids respect parents who say “No,” as long as it’s rational and gentle. My parents from Guyana have a saying, “Monkey knows which tree to climb.” Kids will eventually figure out who the pushover parent is, and although they may like them better as kids, they often grow up not respecting them as much.


Abby April 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm

I love that saying too, Ali! I want that on a fridge magnet. 🙂


Lou Mello April 2, 2012 at 7:49 am

Denise is right on target about how we as parents need to set reasonable and explainable rules and then stick to them as much as possible. Telling a kid “no: when they ask to break those rules is showing them that you are caring about them, even though it might be another 18 years before they realize it,


Rachel April 2, 2012 at 9:46 pm

adorable guest post! I was at the $1 store today and said NO to my kid’s request for a gun or sword… I was feeling kind of bad for not getting him the cheap toys, but I definitely think the next time he gets a little present request granted it will be more meaningful.


Holly from 300 Pounds Down April 2, 2012 at 11:41 pm

I say no quite a lot. I also say yes though. But I’d venture to say they hear no more often!!


Denise Schipani April 3, 2012 at 6:49 am

Great comments! Ali, I particularly love (and have been sharing with others) your Guyanese parents’ saying, “Monkey knows which tree to climb.” So true! Our boys have no parental trees that are that easy to climb; my husband’s more strict than I am,though he’s also more playful. You CAN have both! Feel free to come on over to Mean Moms, and thanks again to Abby for hosting me.


Angie Mizzell April 3, 2012 at 9:24 am

Denise, I particularly like this quote from your blog: But just as love alone is not enough to sustain a lasting marriage, it’s also not enough to raise children into independent, competent adults. That was a big “aha” for me. Thanks, Abby, for introducing us to Denise.


Denise Schipani April 3, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Angie, Thanks! I’m blushing! (Meanly, sure, but blushing)


J.D. Meier April 3, 2012 at 10:01 pm

> No presents a teachable moment
Very well put.

I like how you frame limits as learnings and opportunities.


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