In the quest for teaching my kids good manners, I expected to have to teach them how to say the word “please.” What I didn’t expect was finding myself saying, “If you say ‘please’ one more time, you’re losing [x privilege] for a week!”

If you’ve been a parent for any length of time, I’m sure you know what I mean. We teach our children that “please” is the “magic word,” but we quickly find ourselves having to unteach the same idea because the word is expected to magically grant their requests every time. Soon, it is used as a tool to badger us into changing our minds, and suddenly we realize that perhaps even more important than teaching our children how to ask nicely is teaching them how to accept the word “no.”

This can be a very tiresome lesson to teach. It is often tempting to just give in and let them have what they want, especially when we may not have had a strong reason to decline their request in the first place. But the longer I’m a parent, the more I begin to see why it’s so important that our children learn to accept our answers. Here are a few reasons why.

1. It reduces the length of the battle.

I know. . . . This can be difficult to believe when a child is in the middle of a tantrum. And we all know that giving in to the tantrum only encourages more tantrums in the future. But what about the child that doesn’t lose her temper but continues to pester and argue and say “please” again and again? My firstborn was one of these. My negative answers would often be met with a long, drawn-out process of getting her to quit asking the same thing. Even when I won in the end, the length of the battle was still a bit ridiculous.

Finally, I realized that the only way to deal with it was to nip that battle in the bud. I now tell my children that when I give my answer, they are allowed to make ONE respectful appeal. After that, I’m not going to change my mind, and if they continue to whine or argue, they’re in trouble. If they begin to fight back, the phrase I use with younger children is, “What do you say when Mommy says ‘no’?” with the expected answer being, “Yes, ma’am.” I don’t have a particular phrase I use for older children, but the concept is the same. Does this work every time? HAHAHA . . . no. I also don’t apply this rule as consistently as I should. But I don’t often find myself engrossed in long arguments anymore, and that counts for something.

2. It combats entitlement.

Why do we have so many entitled children? I think there are multiple reasons, but I believe one of them is that it’s no longer the norm to expect our children to accept disappointment. Parents are often advised to try to distract the child from a rejected request, or to allow him to vent his feelings. I don’t see much advice on teaching him to face the disappointment and learn to move on. Again, this is not an easy task, but otherwise we teach our children to expect that they will always be happy with the outcome, and that’s just not reality.

3. It teaches them to accept authority.

I think many parents these days don’t necessarily want to be seen as the authority in their children’s lives, but children need that authority to direct them and keep them safe. Furthermore, they will be under some measure of authority all their lives, whether from their boss or from law enforcement or (most importantly) from God. If they can’t accept an answer from a parent, they likely won’t want to accept it from these other authorities.

4. It teaches them to respect others’ boundaries.

While it is important to teach our children to accept a “no” from a parent, I believe it’s of similar importance to teach them to accept a “no” from their peers. My son has a particularly difficult time with accepting an answer from his sisters. For example, this morning my oldest was apparently allowing him to crawl across her as a “bridge” between the table and couch in the living room. There came a point when she was done, but he was not ready to let her be done. I had to talk to him (yet again) on respecting someone else’s “no” just as he would want her to respect his “no.”

This can be especially complicated if someone permits the undesired thing up to a certain point, but for reasons you can guess, I feel it’s crucial to drill it into my son’s mind that “no means no” and “stop means stop.” It’s ironic that the psychology of the day seems to think it’s acceptable for children to rebel against the boundaries set by their parents / authority figures, but a horrible sin not to respect the boundaries of their peers once they’re older. I think there’s a reason the Bible teaches us to respect the boundaries of both.

5. It demonstrates to them how they can set their own boundaries.

I often have to remind my son that I don’t like him using his grubby hands to squish my face into funny shapes. That is one of my boundaries. Sometimes when I’m tickling or snuggling him, he asks me to stop. That is one of his boundaries. When he sees me setting and enforcing my boundary, it encourages the idea that he can set his own boundaries. When he sets a boundary, I can encourage his respect of my boundaries by respecting his. It’s cyclical.

A big part of our job as parents is to teach our children to obey. But I also don’t want them to feel that they always have to defer to my will. They are each their own person and ought to have their own preferences and boundaries. Thus, I think it’s important to teach my children not only how to accept “no,” but also how to say “no” in appropriate situations. And I believe they will be more willing to accept “no” when they are also allowed to express it.

Again, none of this is easy. It requires consistency and firmness, and a willingness to understand our children . . . a balance that I often don’t get right. But I believe it’s a challenge from God that we must learn to accept, with the same level of obedience we expect of our children.


Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of author.