N is for No

I’ll bet I’m not the only one to choose No as my word for today.

It’s funny, you know, it’s not that I have a hard time saying no to things I don’t want to do. That is rarely a challenge for me.

I have a hard time saying no to things I want to do but I don’t have time for, or things that are important to do but I may not be the right person to do them.


I thought I’d explore some ways to say no to things. The one at the top is a weird-ish way of refusing things that some people around here might say. I am pretty sure the sentence structure is Irish. It would happen like ‘I’m going to borrow your book here. ‘ ‘That’s what you’re not!’

I’ve been thinking lately, though, about different ways to say no to things.

When my kids were toddlers, I read something about how you shouldn’t spend all your time saying No to them, you should try to tell them what to do instead of what not to do.

I know this is easier said than done but it makes a lot of sense. Just think about when you are learning something new, what feels easier to hear ‘No, that’s wrong.’ or ‘Try this instead.’

I think we easily get our backs up about No * and I think that it is just easier for us to integrate a slight change in direction into our systems. No throws up a wall and then we operate in reaction to that.

So, if you had been around when my kids were toddlers, you would have heard a lot of ‘careful steps!’ ‘book on the table please’ and other concrete suggestions about what TO do instead of what NOT to do. That doesn’t mean I didn’t shout NOOOOOO at them a bunch of times, too, of course I did, I’m not a robot Mom, but I found the suggestions for different activities to be much more effective.

I still find it pretty effective actually, telling my kids what I want instead of what I don’t want. But, you’ll still hear me bellowing ‘Nu-uh, back up the bus. That is NOT happening.’ from time to time. Why do I phrase it like that? Because I find me funny. It’s a side effect of being a parent, I think. A ridiculous sense of humour.

In fact, a ridiculous sense of humour might be our only defense mechanism against the weirdness that is parenting.

Anyway, back to the No.

I think the reason we all have so much trouble with the word no is that it a boundary issue and we all have trouble with boundaries. Some of us set them too firmly, some of us set them too loosely and some of us don’t feel that we have a right set any at all.

I’m not sure what the answer to that is. I don’t know where someone else’s boundaries should be but I think they should make people comfortable. That beig siad, I think people with too tight boundaries are comfortable they just don’t ge tto experience everything that they could. So perhaps that it should be tight enough to prtect you without being so tight that they restrict you. Only you know where your Nos should land.

And I want you to know that it is okay to say No. That’s a lesson I want to pass on to my kids. You don’t ahve to make yourself miserable so someone else is happy. you don’t have to deny yourself the life that you want to live so someone else gets a bit more space.

*I can’t help but think that that is related to how many times we heard it as children. We all struggle to separate criticism of our behaviour with criticism of ourselves, but kids really internalize that stuff.

3 thoughts on “N is for No

  1. Its a big subject for such a little word, isn’t it? I remember the first time I discovered that boundaries were a good thing and not just something that prevent good stuff getting to you – it was one of those moments.
    I particularly love your alternative to saying no strategy with your children – wish I’d heard it before, will certainly try to use it and to recommend its use. For you’re right, children do internalize stuff; a therapist I knew described it as “swallowing what is heard down whole”.
    Brilliant read, thanks Christine.

  2. Helen Holshouser says:

    I was one of the others who wrote about “no!”. Its interesting to me how different our posts are! Like Debs says, it is a complicated subject. As a psychologist, I used to teach that alternative behavior technique and it really helps! This was a great article!

  3. Thank you so much, Helen. It is very complicated, I guess that’s what happens when you involve humans in things! 🙂

    I’m a bit behind on reading other people’s posts, but I’m heading right to your blog now!

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