Teaching Kids how to say no

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I homeschooled my four children for many reasons. I started because the public schools in our area were unacceptable and we couldn't afford private school. I continued because we all loved it.

While homeschooling, we grew closer as a family, we got more sleep, each child received a personalized education, and we all just learned so much. My husband and I also cherished the chance to be major influences in our children's lives. We talked about everything under the sun.

But I read an article recently that made me wonder: Even if we as homeschoolers enjoy deep conversations with our children, could we still miss a certain specific conversation we need to have? It's a conversation about how to say no. That way, when kids are in a tough situation, they don't have to think on their feet.

A Sonlight family learning together
Sonlight student Brandon S poses with a role model who knew how to stand his ground in the face of hard choices.

I encourage you to read the article and see if anything applies to you. Can you and your children brainstorm specific ways to refuse a dangerous bike stunt or turn down alcohol? Perhaps something like "my mom can smell like a bloodhound and I don't want to take the risk." I've heard the advice that if your teen finds herself in a sexual situation and she wants things to stop, she can simply say that she needs to go to the bathroom. When she comes out of the bathroom, she can say she remembered she needs to go home.

Of course, it'd be nice if our kids were articulate and poised enough to not need scripted responses. But I'd rather give them backup tools – like a scripted response – that help them simply get out of a bad situation first. Then they can process with you and come up with strategies to avoid such situations in the future.

I also think that being able to say no starts young. Do you ever let your children say no? Do they grow up knowing they have boundaries that you and others will respect?

This is a difficult balance of teaching kids to obey and respecting their choices. If your child wants to play video games instead of doing his chores, he still has to do his chores. But if you are roughhousing with a child and he asks you to stop ... do you? Or if you're tickling and a giggled "stop it!" comes out, do you stop? If you stop tickling and your daughter actually wants you to keep going, she'll let you know. But in the meantime you're teaching her an important lesson: she has a voice in what happens to her body.

Another way we might ignore children's wishes about their bodies is in greeting friends and relatives. If my children ever felt uncomfortable giving someone a hug, I chose to respect that. You can teach children other respectful ways to greet people and say goodbye – perhaps a wave or a high five. If we don't respect their "no" about their own bodies when they are young, how can we expect them to feel confident enough to have a voice and say no when they are older and the stakes are higher?

So here is the food for thought: if we want our kids to stand their ground when it comes to safety, drugs, alcohol, and sexual choices, let's help them learn to stand their ground when they are younger. Let's give them tools and respect their right to say "no." (Remembering that saying no to vegetables is different than saying no to hugging their uncle.)

And above all, pray for your children. Ask God to protect them and help them make wise choices. With God's help, may your children grow up ready to do whatever He calls them to!


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