Is it ok for your child to say “No” to an adult or parent?

As moms concerned about raising polite children, the gut reaction is, “No, it’s not.” But that may not always be the case. In an interview with Oprah, Elizabeth Smart’s Dad made a statement about how we teach our children to respect adults so much, we don’t give them any permission to say no if they feel uncomfortable and scared.

So how can we teach and give permission to our children to say no when the situation demands it, without losing the valuable lessons of respecting their elders at the same time?

1. Detail situations in which they may want to say “No!” such as:

  • If an adult asks them to do something dangerous.
  • If an adult asks them to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable. (Note: Many kids may not understand the word “uncomfortable” but if it’s phrased in a way such as, “it makes your tummy feel funny” or “your feelings feel bad” – they will understand what this means.)
  • If an adult asks to touch them in “places a bathing suit covers up.”
  • If an adult asks the child to touch the adults body in private places (again, places a bathing suit covers up).
  • If an adult tells them to leave school or church with them or get in a vehicle with them.

2. Teach your child that saying “No” is only to be used for situation that makes them scared or uncomfortable.
It’s not to be used to get out of doing something like a chore or responsibility they normally have.

Explain it this way: It’s like a card they can pull out in case of an emergency. If they keep using it before the emergency they won’t have the card anymore. When they save it for a situation that truly needs it, the card will be available to use.

3. Teach your children respect.
In non-dangerous situations, but situations they still want to say “No” in, they can do so respectfully.

Example: They are at an event and a game is being played. The child is too shy or embarrassed to play. It’s ok for them to say so, but not in a rude manner. Instead, they can refuse to participate by simply saying, “No thank you. I’d rather not.”

4. Assure your child you will support their decision to say “No” if they felt justified in saying it.
Give them the guarantee that they will never be in trouble for refusing to obey an adult, if that adult was asking them to do something dangerous or wrong.

5. Just as the article “Stranger Danger” suggested, role-play saying “No” in different scenarios.
Practice everything from a polite, “No thank you” to a forceful, “No! I will not do that!” so a child can better grasp what situations may demand what type of no.

Teaching a child to say no is not giving a child license to be rude. Instead, it’s empowering them to protect themselves should the occasion arise that protection is needed.