How to say “No” to your kids without feeling guilty

How to say “No” to your kids without feeling guilty

Does this sound familiar?

Your child asks for something and you say “no.” This is followed by a number of responses from crying, begging, arguing, following you around and perhaps even becoming verbally or physically abusive. They may protest that ‘It’s not fair!’ ‘You’re so mean!’ and the ultimate ‘I hate you!’

To endure this kind of a reaction from your child, can be really challenging. And whether you give in or stick to your guns, you can end up feeling guilty.

But there is another way…Here’s how to say “no” to your kids without feeling guilty.

Firstly, why is it important to say “No” to your kids?

Saying “no” may feel difficult in the short term, but what you need to look at is the long-term gain.



They are trying to figure out what the rules are, what’s ok and what’s not ok. And if they’re getting inconsistent messages from you, it will leave them feeling confused and anxious.

Whilst they may not thank you for saying “no”, you are in fact teaching them important lessons about life and getting along. They will learn to tolerate disappointment and frustration and experience delayed gratification. If we shield our kids too much, they will not learn to work through these issues.

So by creating clear and consistent boundaries at a young age, it can help kids to feel secure and cared for, as well as preventing bigger problems, as they get older.

But why is it so hard to say “NO”?

We’ve all done it…caved in to our child’s pleading, despite having every intention of saying “no.”

So why is it so difficult to say this 2-letter word?

Some of the reasons are:

  • Feeling guilty for not spending enough time with your kids – Parents are now busier than ever and so don’t want the little time they do spend with their kids, to be filled with conflict.
  • To maintain the peace and quiet – Kids have a knack of asking for something when you’re doing a million other things, on the phone or in a public place! And so to avoid dealing with their negative reaction, it’s easier to say “yes.”
  • Concerns that it will affect their self-esteem – Parents get anxious that when their kids are unhappy or disappointed, that it will affect their self-esteem.
  • Worried that your kids will hate you if you’re too strict – To combat this parents try to be more like a friend than a parent.
  • Comparing to others – When children protest that their “friends are allowed to do it,” it can leave you doubting your decision. So instead of doing what you feel is right for your child, you feel pressurised to do what others are doing.

These are all understandable reasons for agreeing to what your child wants. And saying “yes” may temporarily ease your guilt, but it will not serve your child in the long run. Your kids need you to be their parent, not their friend.

In fact research has shown that the parenting style that is most beneficial for your child is a combination of warmth and boundaries.

So how can you say “No” to your kids  without feeling guilty?

 Here are a few tips:

1. Hear them out

Before you give a definitive “no”, give your kids a chance to say why they want something. Kids need to feel they have been heard and that you can be flexible. It’s also better to say “no” once you have all the facts. If you say “no” and then say “yes”, it’s sending out the message that “no doesn’t always mean no.” If you’re busy at the time or not sure, let them know you will discuss it later.

2. Know why you are saying “no”

You need to be very clear on your reason for saying “no.” Possible reasons are:

  • Their safety – are they likely to get hurt?
  • Safety of others – are they going to harm someone or break something?
  • Your values – does it go against your beliefs and values?
  • Their health – will it have consequences for their health and wellbeing?
  • Your wallet – Can you afford it?
  • Your time – Do you have time to do it?
  • Your sanity – Is it going to make you feel resentful and angry?

Having a valid reason for saying “no” can give you the confidence to see it through.

3. Give a brief explanation

Depending on the age of your child, you may need to explain the rationale behind your decision. However, this does not mean you get entangled in an endless discussion about why you said “no”. Remember you are not trying to convince them to agree.

4. Try not to shout

This can be difficult but it’s not helpful to get angry or raise your voice. Kids need to feel that you are in control. So make eye contact and be firm, calm and clear with your response.

5. Suggest an alternative

For younger children you may need to tell them what you want them to do instead, so they can learn. For older children you can suggest an alternative, but only if there is one.

6. Tolerate the reaction

This is the real test. You need to be prepared for the possible explosive reaction. So when they are begging and pleading with you, calmly repeat your “no”.  Do not engage in any negotiation. If they continue to try to wear you down, walk away (if they can be left alone).

At this point you may be feeling guilty and feel like you’re a lousy parent. Don’t allow your negative thoughts to get the better of you. Do something to distract yourself. It will pass…

There will however be times when you get it wrong and you have to reverse your decision…no parent is perfect. But make it clear that your change of heart is due to reconsidering the request and not because they wore you down.

One last point to note…if you have a partner, it’s important you are both singing off the same hymn sheet. Kids will naturally go to the ‘softer’ parent.

Saying “no” consistently is hard work. But if you master this skill, it can have huge benefits in the long run. Remember you are not being a killjoy. Your children don’t have the foresight that you do. They need your help and guidance.

So by staying focussed on the bigger picture, you can say “no” without feeling guilty.

If you would like some further support, please feel free to contact me.