The Importance of Saying NO to your children

As parents we have a natural instinct to want to give our children what they want. We want them to be happy and content. We want to be able to provide them with their heart’s desires.The issue, though, is that giving them everything they want may not be what is good for them in the long term. In the context of character development, it is important that children learn that they cannot always have whatever they want in life. They need to learn how to accept a “NO”.


One of the fundamental principles of parenting is to think long term rather than short term. Our role is to help facilitate the development of our children into young adults. Our responsibility is to provide them with experiences that enable them to grow into responsible and independent man and woman who are ready to fulfil their potentials in the “real world”.

The “real world” imposes all kinds of challenges and limitations. Adult life is about being willing to sacrifice things, being willing to compromise, being patient when we don’t get what we want, having the discipline to delay short term gratification in order to fulfil long term goals, and having the discipline and perseverance to stay the course even when things get unpleasant and tough. This is the life we need to prepare our children for.

With this in mind, it is therefore, necessary and important that our children are not overly sheltered from the problems and challenges that “normal people” face.

For example, they need to understand that they cannot have things instantly; they need to wait. So when they ask or demand for something NOW; it is alright for parents to say “no”, as long as it does not compromise the safety of the child. It is alright for parents to tell their child “that you need to wait and be patient just like everyone else.”

The problem is that sometimes we focus on the short term gratification of the child. We want to avoid unpleasant episodes, we want them to be happy NOW, so we say YES to everything, and in the process spoil them in the long term.

Bottom-line, to help our children develop the strength of character, the resilience and discipline needed to succeed in their adult life, we need to say NO sometimes.

It’s about recognising LIMITS

Saying NO teaches our children about accepting limits that prevent us from excess, for example, spending limits. Children should learn from an early age that the family cannot afford to buy them everything they want.This is especially challenging in this consumer age; where a million messages bombard our children through the TV, billboards, magazines and peers; all exhorting them to buy the latest toy, or fashion accessory or, electronic gadget.  Peer pressure is especially difficult to resist and as a result of all of this “advertising” our children may feel that life is not complete without this “thing” they want to buy.

These are wonderful opportunities for us to teach our children about the importance of fiscal responsibility; the importance of saving, the importance of not spending more than we can afford no matter how attractive the product is. We can teach them this by saying NO. Many children unfortunately are not taught limits when they are young. They are used to getting what they want and they inevitably suffer when they start working, at which point they discover they cannot always get their way. 

There are many teenagers I know who are still given unlimited spending limits on their parents’ supplementary credit cards, and as a result they are used to a lifestyle without discipline or boundaries. The crunch of course comes once they are financially independent and are no longer relying on their parents for income; and suddenly they discover they have to change their whole mentality towards financial management.

Be Reasonable

While saying NO once in a while is a good thing for your child, it does not mean that you have to say NO all the time. In the end it’s not about your ratios of YES and NOs, it’s about you being fair and reasonable with your child. As parents we have to make judgments everyday about what is reasonable, about where we draw the line, where we set the limits.It’s not easy. There are no clear guidelines for us.

‘How long should I allow my child to watch TV?’ ’How much ice cream should they be allowed to eat?’ ’How much should I allow them to spend on toys and clothes?’’How late should I allow them to sleep?’ ‘How long should I allow them to play computer games?’

These are all judgments we need to make. Mother and father should sit down, discuss and make a decision based on what they think is fair and healthy for the child. You can consult with the child, just as you can consult with other parents; but in the end you’ve got to make the final call. Once the decision is made, the challenge is enforcing it.

It’s tough at the start

In the beginning expect lots of tantrum throwing, lots of crying. Most children will not take kindly to being told NO, especially if they’re used to hearing a YES.This is our test of courage as parents. This is the test of whether we have the discipline and will power to stick to what we believe in. We need to be strong.

Give in to a tantrum and you’re just encouraging your child to do it again. They know our weak spots. They realize that sometimes we give in if they’re loud, or if they cry, or if they embarrass us in front of others. My advice is not to give in. Stay fair but firm.You can take comfort from the fact that it gets easier. After a few times, your child will realise that all the tantrums in the world will not change your mind about what is reasonable and fair. Hey will then learn to regulate their own emotional reaction to the NO and over time learn hot to handle it.


As parents we want to help our child develop the strength they need to succeed in the future. This means learning to handle the disappointment of not getting what you want.This does not mean we turn into wet blankets who make it our mission to kill all the fun and enjoyment in life. It means that we make judgments based on what is reasonable and fair, and this means sometimes saying YES and sometimes saying NO.

It’s hard at the start but if we persevere, our children will learn about limits and develop emotional resilience to disappointments in life.