Saying “no” starts with those first bites at the breast and grabs at the family dog… but the ability to say “no” means the ability to protect your little one from unhealthy behaviours and to teach her restraint. Guest poster M.E. Picher, founder of Wholeplay, explains the top 5 reasons parents can’t say no, and why we should.

Look around you.  Are there crayon marks on your walls?  What about tiny, little fingerprints on your computer screen?  If you answered, “yes” to either one of those questions, you might have a tiny, little problem saying “no.”

In my experience, most parents (including myself) have trouble saying, “no,” for the following reasons:

  • Exhaustion. We’re simply too tired to put up a fight, (or put down a foot).
  • Exploration. We’re afraid of squelching our kids’ inherent genius and creativity.
  • Distraction. We’re so absorbed in our own worlds, (which are usually of the “virtual” variety) that we don’t even notice that we should’ve said, “no” until it’s too late. (Confession: Last week I spent five minutes fishing my Blackberry out of the hole of my guitar because I hadn’t realized my son had: (a) got hold of the device; and (b) gotten a hold of my guitar).
  • Cuteness. We’re so enamored by how cute they look getting into trouble that we can’t resist watching the disaster unfold.

And finally, probably the number 1 reason we struggle to say “no…”

  • Insecurity. We equate saying “no” to our children with being a bad or mean parent, and the last thing we, as parents, want to be known as is bad or mean.

And so we end up saying “yes” or, more accurately, not saying “no” even though the result of our inaction is rarely happy, grateful children. What is the result of not setting appropriate limits for our children enough? Anger. Because, eventually, the circumstances arise which require us to say “no,” regardless of how checked out and tired we are, or how brilliant and adorable they are.




For example, when your sixteen-month-old wants to explore the shiny, dimpled surface of a cheese grater, you have to say “no.” If your child has had limits set for him on a fairly consistent basis, he will (for the most part) relinquish the object without much fuss. But if your child hasn’t had limits set for him on a fairly consistent basis? You’re most likely going to have a fight on your hands.

But here is an even better reason to set appropriate limits for our kids:  It’s actually a kind thing to do.   Because deep down inside, (even when they don’t know it), it’s what our kids not only need, but also desperately want. It lets them know that they’ve got someone watching out for them, and that someone’s in charge so they don’t have to be.

It’s only then that they can truly let go and explore.

Mary Elizabeth, or M.E. for short, is Co-Founder and Educational Director of Wholeplay.  She has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and has worked extensively in the field of Children’s Mental Health, specializing in the areas of early childhood development, positive parenting and healthy attachment. M.E., the primary facilitator of all Wholeplay’s classes, has provided individual and group support to hundreds of parents and young children.