Do Your Kids A Favor By Saying No

Do Your Kids A Favor By Saying No

There is one thing that I have learned from my mother-in-law through seeing how she treats her children and that is to do them the favor of saying no. This is one of those situations where you learn a lesson by seeing something done one way and having it turn out so badly that you learn not to ever do it that way yourself. My mother-in-law does not know how to say no. To her children, strangers, a cashier, to a waiter, to her children, to anyone. If someone asks her to do something, offers her something or worst of all asks her for things that cost her money, she will – every single time – say yes.

The most obvious way this comes up is that she cannot say no to her 3 daughters. They have 12 years of college classes and not a degree in sight, trips to Europe, houses, cars, expensive clothes – anything you could think of that 3 girls who have never been told no would ask for and major (and serious, sad) issues to go along with it. It’s really sad to see because from the outside, it’s pretty obvious that some boundaries from early on would have done them all some good. She’s done a disservice to herself and to her daughters by lacking the ability to hold onto what is hers.

I think a lot of it has to do with her own desire for people to see that she *can* buy them the things they want. Saying no might imply not that she has boundaries, but that she can’t afford it. And that would be bad. Wouldn’t want anyone to not *know* you have the means to pay for a trip to Europe.

Now that I have children of my own that are learning and exploring and testing limits and asking questions and asking for me to buy them things, I find myself thinking of my mother-in-law more and more. I don’t want children who don’t know how to be told no. I don’t want a daughter who says nobody loves her if she doesn’t get enough presents under the Christmas tree when she is 21 years old. I want children who know that I love them and know that I like to do things for them but also know that there are limits. I want my children to understand that part of the excitement and thrill of taking trips and buying things you want and having things you like is working hard for them yourself so you can take satisfaction in that. I want them to learn what an earned dollar is. I want them to learn where it comes from, and that money is earned not just handed over.

Whether it is $2 or $2,000,000 – it doesn’t matter if I have the means to pay for it for you or not. It’s about limits and boundaries. My 3 year old is just beginning to understand the cost of things. She’s starting to look at price tags and see the differences between prices in clothing and toys and food and even gas. But this is all new. Until now, she had no clue if something she was asking for cost $1 or $100. So if I said yes to every $1 thing she asked for just because I had a dollar in my wallet, all I am teaching her is that she gets whatever she asks for.

Taking the cost of items out of the equation and making it more of a lesson in limits and teaching that simply because we want something and can afford it does NOT mean we buy it is so important. We can save our money for something that we may prefer to have more, we can think about whether or not we really have to have the item and how useful it is going to be to our life if we do buy it. We can talk about the fact that we have a lot of things very similar to it so adding one more is not something we need to do with our money right now just because she likes it and I can afford it.

I know it’s not simple. I expect many battles ahead and many “you don’t love me” proclamations when I don’t give in to their every whim. I am not trying to buy my children’s love though. That would get very expensive. I just know that when they’re older, they’ll respect and appreciate it and we’ll all be glad they aren’t 20 and 30 somethings that go to mom with the sugary sweet voice and batting eyelashes when they want something. I want to do things for my children as they grow because *I* want to – not because they guilt me into it or because I am trying to prove myself as a person with the cash to say yes. I want to provide for my kids, of course. I want to enjoy buying them things and surprising them, giving them gifts to make them smile. But I plan to teach them what hard work, saving, delayed gratification, and financial priorities are also.

Other posts from around the web that address this same topic and issue are

How I Taught My Preschooler The Value Of A Dollar at Being Frugal
Teaching Preschoolers About Money and Formulating An Allowance Plan For Our Almost Four Year Old at Paid Twice
Life Is One Big Chore at This Wasn’t In The Plan

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  1. Being told no made me appreciative of the “yes” times. I remember being floored when I actually got to walk out of the grocery store with a toy. It felt like I’d won the jackpot! It was an ugly ’80s tracksuit for my ugly ’80s Ken doll, by the way. No wonder Mom always said no; I had terrible taste.

  2. Sara, that’s a great point about making you more appreciative of the yes times. I think it’s a good sign that my daughter acts totally shocked when I say yes to something “Really?! I CAN get it?”

    I had terrible taste too. Hypercolor shirts and slap bracelets.

  3. When you don’t say no, the yes becomes expected, and then there is no way to say now. I’ve seen this in family where someone has always been given everything they want, and now it is almost expected to the point where if something isn’t given, they are immediately offended.

    I also see the point about how people give or say yes all the time because they want to be seen as the good guy, the person who is “giving” or sharing, when in reality they are teaching their kids a bad lesson.

    Kudos to you for saying no! I don’t have kids yet, but i’m already practicing my NO!

  4. Do we have the same mother in law?? We just recently had a big family blow out over this exact situation. (email me if you want details! lol) For my mother in law it’s not about appearances though, it’s a fear that someone won’t like her, or they will be mad at her. Someone being mad at her is the worst thing in the world. She takes other people’s opinions of her as truth. If someone thinks she is a bad person then she’s a bad person. If someone thinks she is a good person, then she’s a good person.

  5. My own mother taught me quite early on that I couldn’t get everything I want. I still want to get everything I want…but I seem decent at building those boundaries now. I still take on too much, but more because I get too easily excited. And not in the financial way.

    Of course, not being able to afford it helps too! ;)

  6. I completely agree. My mother in law is actually a great inspiration in this respect. We have our differences of opinion, but on this issue we totally see eye to eye: kids need boundaries. They NEED us to say “no”. They become confused if they feel they are the ones in control, that they can manipulate us into doing whatever they want.

    I think that for many parents, there is the temptation to give more to our kids than we had as kids… need to be very careful with that too. It’s important to strike a balance between allowing our kids to enjoy what we can offer them, and giving in to bullying.

  7. Such an important lesson!
    Great post!!

  8. Great post! I couldn’t agree more about setting boundaries/rules and enforcing them. My son is almost 2 and although he’s not at the “buy me xxx” stage, he certainly pushes the limits as to what he can get away with (ie climbing on the dining room table is NOT allowed).

    Sometimes it’s not even important what the rule is that you are enforcing, but rather that you be firm and follow through (like your potential $1 purchase).


  9. I agree! my parents said no to all those little things when we were growing up (gum in the grocery stores, izod shirts, etc) and it did make me very appreciative of the things I did have, as well as taught me to save my own money for things I really wanted…which also made me really think about their value…did I really want to save for months for one shirt?

    Thanks for the great post :)

  10. We say no all the time! “No – you can’t buy that toy.” “No – you can’t have a bunch of clothes.” “No – you can’t carry a bottle of soda home to drink tonight.”

    But I think we say yes more often. “Yes – you can play with that stick!” “Yes – you can go climb that tree!” “Yes – you can ride your bike from Alaska to Argentina.” “Yes – you can do anything you set your mind to!”

    My kids have learned over the years to not even ask for all those toys they see in the store – they know we can’t carry them with us. We are a family who travels on bicycles, and our children have one small bag for all their personal items – that’s it! They know they either need to get rid of something in their bag in order to fit a new item, or they don’t get the new item in the first place! It works out very, very well, and our children know how to distinguish between wants and needs – anything they NEED they get. Most things they WANT they don’t get.

    We are now taking off to ride our bikes from Alaska to Argentina and we’re sure our boys will learn even more in the 2 1/2 years we plan to be on the road! You can read about our journey at

  11. Hi, I stumbled over to see your I Saw Red pics and found this excelllent post. Raising my kids I said no a lot. Sometimes because I had to, we were on a very tight budget, sometimes because it was the right thing to do for the kid. Never just no for the sake of no though. If I could help it, it was “I can’t afford $70 jeans. I will pay $20 and if you want $70 jeans you’ll have to come up with the rest of it yourself.” Or “No, you can’t go driving around with your friends but if they want to come over to our house for the evening, I’ll rent everyone a movie and make popcorn.”
    My kids often complained about how mean I was and how everyone else had better, nicer, kinder, more generous parents. (My response was that perhaps those other parents were taking applications for new children and they were free to apply if they so chose) Now, as adults, all doing well, they THANK ME regularly, for teaching them the value of the word “no” and tell me how it’s helped them to accomplish the things that are important to them. They see some of their more pampered friends now unable to make anything of their lives now that they are adults and can’t say no even to themselves.
    Great post.

  12. I agree completely. In the past few years I’ve been doing some evening babysitting and am amazed at the way some of these 4- and 5-year-old kids see the world: “If I want it, I should get it.” They are utterly astounded when I say, “No.” The first time I said it to one little boy — and incidentally, I said it calmly and pleasantly — he was speechless for about two minutes. Finally he said, “But I *want* it.” My response, also calmly and pleasantly, was: “Well, we all want SOMETHING.” That left him scratching his head for some time.
    Just FYI: What he’d wanted me to do (actually, what he’d *told* me to do) was to climb up on a ladder and remove some of the glow-in-the-dark stars from his ceiling so he could give them to a friend.
    Uh, no.
    Here’s hoping more parents develop this lost art.
    Best regards,
    Donna Freedman

  13. I StumbledUpon your post here and couldn’t help but get caught up in it. What you’re describing here is the “difference between helping and enabling” children. And it’s quite interesting to hear from parents of now grown children wondering why their kids are constantly asking for money or “needing” help with bills, car payments, etc because of being irresponsible with their own money and spending habits. It continues to amaze (and frustrate) me the number of kids, teens and young adults who are growing up with the attitude that their parents are an ATM machine, or that the parents somehow “owe” them everything and anything their little hearts desire.

  14. Thanks for sharing this very critical post.

    Learning to say no to our children and others is not only important to help them to respect boundaries, but to help us learn to be kind to ourselves.

    Anyone who depends on someone else’s approval for their own happiness is doomed to a roller coaster existence.

    I gave my children and grandchildren more time than money, and as a result they appreciate their earnings and are thoughtful about their spending (even more so than I was at their ages.) I found that money spent on experiences such as trips and music lessons were dollars well-spent.

    Things they insisted on having that weren’t in my budget or my consciousness such as Jordache jeans (the popular brand when my oldest was a teen) they had to buy with their own money. To this day, my now-38-year-old daughter confides the tremendous letdown she felt when she spent all of her monetary graduation gifts on that pair of have-to-have jeans.

    I admit that I was not as disciplined with spending on my grandchildren as I was with my own children, but they still managed to learn the value of money and be appreciative, especially as they get older.

  15. I wish I was told no when I was a kid. I am a freethinker but I wasted so much time being insecure when I was younger. My parents could not say no to me… and I liked to eat. Later in my teens I lost all the weight, and I realize the effects now. I still have to deal with problems from it to this day.

  16. This post is fantastic. I work as a cashier and I’m always appalled when the parents tell a kid they can’t have a little toy or some candy, then, after the kid either asks another ten times or starts crying they give in just to get them to stop. And I can assure you I’m not the only one at the checkout who thinks this way. It’s always great when the child is standing patiently with their parents and they offer them a small toy or some candy and the kid gets really exited. Especially when it’s people who come in all the time so we know it’s not a regular occurrence.

  17. i’ve been looking for that thank you

  18. А телефон свой не оставите? Хотелось бы кое-что обсудить по теме.


  1. Wonderful. I wish everyone posted such great content. Thanks. Sam….

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