“No” is a powerful and useful word that can help keep you and your children safe, comfortable, healthy, and responsible. But it’s also a word that often leads to hurt feelings, conflict, and other complications. That’s because when others hear the word “no,” it often means they aren’t going to get something they want.
Youngsters don’t like “no.”

  • Q: “Mom, can I have a playdate? “
  • A: “No” (The message may be understood as “she’s doesn’t care” or “that’s not fair.”)

Adults don’t like “no.”

  • Q: “Son, did you brush your teeth as I asked?”
  • A: “No” (The message may be understood as “he wasn’t listening to me the first time,” “leave me alone,” or “I don’t have to.”)

Other words—including “stop,” “don’t,” or “can’t”—have similarly negative connotations. Hearing these negative words in response to things we want, or things we are doing, can cause confusion, frustration, anger, or embarrassment.

It’s helpful to learn ways to use these negative expressions skillfully so that you can create important boundaries while minimizing conflict and other complications.

Skillful Use of Negative Statements

When saying something negative such as “no,” add a magical word or expression. Most people know that adding “thank you” is more polite than just “no.” When “thank you” is not appropriate, there is the magical word “because.” “Because” is magical because it leads to an explanation of your point of view, which helps the other person understand your intentions, feelings, and thoughts.

  • Q: “Mom, can I have a playdate?”
  • A: “No, because your dad is coming home early for family time … but I think we can arrange something for the following day.”
  • Q: “Son, did you brush your teeth as I asked?”
  • A: “No, because I got sidetracked picking up my clothes.”

The use of “no, because …” is also an extremely useful tool for kids and teens wishing to resist peer pressure. It’s not so easy to “Just Say No.” In order to handle peer pressure, kids need to be assertive, but in a way that allows them to save face and avoid risking alienation or embarrassment. Using “no because…” is an important tool in surviving peer pressure and allowing kids to make wise decisions.


  • Dare: “Come on, do it! … I won’t tell… It will be so cool…”
  • Response: “No, because it’s not safe and I don’t want to get grounded by my dad.”
  • Dare: “You are a great ball kicker. I dare you to kick the ball over the fence into the parking lot.”
  • Response: No, because it’s not safe, and we’ll lose the ball. We can kick to each other if you want.”

Tips and Reminders

  • Model and teach “no, because” to children. One way to teach is to role-play so they get practice.
  • For teens, you might give them explicit permission to blame their parents when using “no, because.” For instance, when one teen beckons your teen to sneak out to a party, your teen might respond, “No, because my (horrible and mean) parents said I’d be grounded for a month and lose my phone the next time I snuck out…”
  • When a child says “no” to you, listen to see if he explains. If he doesn’t, you might ask him a question to understand his feelings or ideas before you react. Sometimes, kids have a good reason to say “no.” They just haven’t expressed it.
  • Try and develop a practice of saying “no, because…” when you say “no” to your children. This will greatly reduce misunderstanding and conflict. It will also help you be mindful of saying “no” for genuine reasons and not out of habit or for other reasons that may not necessarily warrant “no.”