"Respect the no": 3 reasons to listen when kids say no

The other day, my toddler was eating strawberries and yogurt for breakfast when, with still a few bites left, he said he wanted to get down. “Here’s another bite,” my husband offered, scooping up the remaining yogurt. Thankfully our toddler didn’t hear him because I whispered to my husband, “Don’t offer him more yogurt—he already said ‘no’.”

My toddler loves to eat, so sometimes we’re incredulous to the times when he doesn’t want to finish his meal. With that in mind, it’s easy for us to dismiss him when he actually says no to food. I’m glad I caught it with the yogurt, but I’m willing to bet we had made the same mistake a few times in the past. I wondered if maybe he doesn’t tell us he’s done because we don’t always listen to him when he does.

In addition to mealtimes, below are a few more examples of when we’re likely to disregard his no’s:

  • Tickling him. It’s so easy to tickle kids—they’re so darn cute, and they’re laughing, right? But tickling can eventually get too much, and being the little people they are, kids can feel helpless in defending themselves. I try to be mindful of not tickling my toddler when he says no, even amidst laughter.
  • Asking him incessant questions. I doubt any parent actually annoys their kids on purpose, but we have to pay attention to when they’ve had enough. It could be something as innocent as asking for a hug or suggesting to read a book several times when he already said no.
  • During transitions. Sometimes transitions have to happen—if we have to leave the house by 8:20, we have to leave by 8:20. But other transitions could be a bit more flexible so that if I suggest going to the park and he has already said no, I should just leave it at that and recommend the outing later.

And it’s this last point that this thought began formulating in my mind. An Honest Mom coined the term “respect the no” in a recent comment where she wrote:

Now, the thing that I parrot all day long is, “respect the ‘no.’ ” If J wants someone else’s toy, I encourage him to ask “Can I have that please?” and then he has to respect the yes or the no. The harder part for me, for whatever reason, is defending J’s need to say no sometimes. Chalk it up to wanting to be liked, maybe. So it feels like therapy everytime I ask another kid to respect J’s “No.” Coincidentally, I’m learning to respect the “no” too.

After encouraging my toddler to tell us when he’s done eating only to dismiss him once he does provides little incentive for him to do so again. And while it’s easy to ignore them, it’s imperative that parents listen to kids when they say no because doing so:

1. Teaches kids that they have boundaries.
Especially when it comes to tickling or annoying them, we have to stop when they ask us to stop. When we don’t, we invade their personal space and send the wrong message that adults can simply tickle or annoy the heck out of them with little regard to their feelings.

2. Lets them know that they have a voice.
When we stop because they asked us to, we’re telling them that they’re important and that their words are taken into consideration. While parents have authority, kids can also learn that they have a voice, and that parents and adults aren’t always right.

3. Encourages them to stand up for what’s important to them.
Kids who are encouraged to say “no” when they’re playing with a toy will likely learn how to stand up for what’s important to them. Today it may be a toy, tomorrow it can be their personal values, a job promotion they deserve, or a passion they want to pursue.

We’ve since been more mindful of when our toddler says no. He enjoys tickling and rough housing, but after a while when he’s had enough and wants to stop, we listen and “respect the no.”

How do you handle it when your kids say ‘no’?