Be a Parent, Not a Friend: How to Say No to Your Kids

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As I plucked a family-sized box of Cheerios from the grocery store shelf yesterday afternoon, a shrill noise came up behind me and I jumped so much, the box jerked from my hand to the floor.  Rounding the corner was a woman with hair falling from her ponytail, pushing a cart with one hand and pulling a toddler with the other.

“But, I want it!”

“Honey, I know you do.  But, it’s almost dinner time, and you just had a cookie.”

“I. Want. It!”

“Honey, yes, but it’s not good for you to have too many sweets.  What about these?  These are good for you?”

“I. Want.  It!”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the mother wipe a tear from her eye.  No doubt this had been going on the whole time they had been shopping.  I pitied her, because I’ve been there so many times.  Being a parent can suck.  But I rooted for her.

Come on!  Say it!  I know you can.  Just say…

“Okay, sweetie, go ahead.  I guess one won’t hurt.”  She swept the little girl into the seat of the cart, ripped open a bag of cookies, and inserted one into the child’s open hand.  The mother avoided my gaze as they rolled past me, but the little girl smiled at me with soft brown goo and chocolate specks all over her lips.


Another one bites the dust.

“No” is a dying word among parents today.  Parenting books advise parents to redirect young kids rather than tell them no, because of the negative connotation of the word.  And I agree with that tactic as a first line of attack. But even young kids develop the skills of a lawyer (or terrorist).  And by the time they are teenagers, they know exactly how long it will take you to give in.  The problem is, by the teen years, the stakes are much higher than cookies.  We’re talking sex, and drugs and alcohol…we’re talking their lives.

I’m guilty of giving in, of trying to keep my kids happy.  And of just wanting them to like me!  But, I’m here to tell you that it is okay to say no to your kids.  In fact, it is your duty. Do you think you can do it?

Decide on your rules and be consistent

Know where you stand on issues.  Are you okay with your ten year old playing violent video games?  Will you let your teenage daughter stay out until midnight? Reflect on your own upbringing.  Do you come from a culture where parents are the ultimate authority, or one where the kids rule the roost?  Ask other parents how they deal with issues, then determine your stance.  Write it down.  This way, when an issue arises with your kid, your confidence and consistency will be apparent to your kid.

Listen to your kid

Let your kid explain what they want and why they want it.  Use active listening skills.  So your teenager says, “I want to go to Bobby’s house tonight.  Susie’s parents are cool and are letting her go.” Hear her out.  Even if you know that Bobby is popular because his parents go to sleep at 9:00 with the liquor cabinet unlocked, say, “I hear going to Bobby’s house tonight is important, and you hope we will let you go because Susie’s parents are letting her go.”  Keep emotion out of it.  Just let her know that you are hearing her pleas.

Express your decision

Tell your kid your decision with a brief explanation.  Keep emotion and judgment of others out of it. Don’t say Susie’s parents are bad parents for letting her go. Whether you say no to a new Barbie or no to Bobby’s party, it is what it is. Stay firm.

Do not engage

This is the hardest part.  When the gnashing of teeth and shrill shrieks of despair begin, show no fear. Do not negotiate with a terrorist.  I’ve learned the hard way, that if you justify your decision at this point, your kid is not going to miraculously perk up and say, “Why, thank you for protecting me, parent!  I love you.”  Your kid will latch onto your words, and pull you into the depths of anger, of glares, of tears, and of venom.  Don’t take the bait.  If your kid says, “I hate you,” go in another room to wipe your tears.

I have struggled with this myself with my kids, but I believe it or not, I actually heard these words from one my older sons just last week.

“Thank you for being a little strict. It kept me out of trouble.”

Do you agree? Do you think I’m full of it?  I want to hear what you think!

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12 thoughts on “Be a Parent, Not a Friend: How to Say No to Your Kids

  1. I agree 100%. Setting rules and boundaries for kids isn’t mean, it is teaching them a valuable lesson that will last a lifetime. I am not afraid to say no, and find myself having to say it to one thing or another daily. Living in India I had Indian moms finding my firm stand absolutely amazing or even shocking at time, because most confessed that they just can’t deal with tantrum and they feel giving in for one cookie or toy is not harmful. The problem is as you said, it is a cookie now, it turns into late nights, fancy mobile phones, sex and drugs.

    I told it many times, I am not my daughter’s friend, she has many of these in school and at the playground. I am her mother, and I am the only one she’ll ever have.

    • I’m glad you mentioned the cultural differences here. My mother-in-law and I differ a lot on this issue. I’ve seen her get teary-eyed when I put one of the kids in time-out. She’s more like, “Let them eat cake,” than “Eat your veggies.” But, like you, I stand by my role as parent, not friend. 🙂

  2. As parent I can understand what you saying. Yes grandmas and grandpa are differently treat their grandkids in India. While their own kids is different. Means my dad will say no to me but not to my kids.

    • I find that, too, with my in-laws. My youngest is their little “rajah.” So, it can frustrating! But, I’m so glad they have grandparents to love them that much!

    • I find that, too, with my in-laws. My youngest is their little “rajah.” So, it can frustrating! But, I’m so glad they have grandparents to love them that much!

  3. I think that that girl from the grocery store is mostly me. I have so many things on my plate at the moment and I just cant stand on my grounds at the moment with my little boy. I know how important it is to be a parent than a peerent. I promise myself that after what I am ..doing fighting. I will be a better mother and I will be more strict with my rules.

    This post is such a nice read. #WeekendBlogHop

    • Thanks for your kind words! It’s so hard to be firm when you are overwhelmed! I’m able to write this after years of trial and error. I think you are a good mother just because you are reflecting on your parenting style!

  4. Agree with you on this. Sometimes I am more of a friend to Cameron than a parent. Mainly just because I want an easy life with no hassle. But even I have realised that I am not doing him any good in the long run

    Thank you for linking up with The Weekend Blog Hop

    Laura x x x

    • I hear ya! Parenting is the hardest job in the world! After 5 kids, I am worn out! Glad to be a part of the blog hop. Thanks for hosting. 🙂

  5. Fully agree! I can’t say I have never caved…(distracted, busy, tired, overwhelmed…kids know full well when to take advantage don’t they??), but I do NOT want my children to be spoiled & have an entitlement mentality. At least not because I encouraged it in any way 🙂
    Thanks for sharing @ Share Your Stuff Tuesdays
    Rachael @

  6. More than once, I have left an entire shopping cart of groceries in place while I hauled a screaming toddler out of the store. I never felt embrassed once and secretly I knew the other shoppers were cheering me on. Both oh my children (girl-18 and boy-13) are emotionally sercure and thriving. I even hesitate to use the word friend in describing my realtionship with my kids. I am a mother, mentor, teacher, provider, spiritual advisor, short order cook, taxi driver, and then maybe a “friend”. No is powerful word that needs to be used carefully and purposefully
    Our children will respect us and appericate us more in the long run for being their parents first before friends.

    • Good for you! It takes a strong person to leave a cart of groceries and take a screaming toddler out of the store, when it’s so easy to just bribe to get through it. I’ve done the same thing. And I agree that the word “No” should be used carefully and purposefully, because on the flip side, saying no to everything makes kids feel like they are bad, they start to ignore the word, and rebel. Thanks for the insightful comment. 🙂

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