10 Ways to Say No to Your Kids, and Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad When You Do

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When I was growing up, my parents had two rules for shopping: Don’t ask for something that isn’t on sale, and no candy from the checkout aisle. If I wanted candy or full-priced cookies, I had to pay for it myself out of the measly pittance they called an “allowance.”

At the time it seemed unfair. Why do they keep saying no? How can anyone survive on $20 a week? But now I know not to waste money and I have no problem saving up for what I really want. Looking back, I’m grateful, but it couldn’t have been easy for them.

If you’re wondering how to say no to your child, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has some tips to help you soften the blow while still imparting wisdom. Check out the video below, and then read on for more advice.

Saying no is hard. No parent wants to be the bad guy, but saying it now can actually help your child become a better and more financially responsible adult. The key is finding positive ways that teach your child why “no” isn’t the worst thing in the world. Here’s how to go about it:

1. Offer alternatives

Often parents have to say no because they can’t afford what their child wants. For example, your child may want to spend the day at an amusement park, but you can’t afford tickets. You don’t have to simply say no. Instead, offer a cheaper alternative like spending the day at a playground. Your child still has fun, and you save money.

2. Explain ahead of time

Being proactive can help avoid a temper tantrum at the store. Before you leave home for the grocery store, explain what the trip is for and what you will and won’t be buying. For example: “We’re going to pick up chicken for dinner. We don’t have time to shop for candy today.” But offer to take your child another day so she can use her own money to buy something.

3. Ask your child why

Children, just like adults, want to be heard. Instead of jumping straight to “no,” ask your child why he wants something. If he gives a reasonable answer, consider saying yes or at least offer to consider it again later. This will show your child that you value his opinion, which will help build confidence.

4. Teach the value of experience over things

Use “no” as a way to teach your kids that life is about experiences, not owning things. For example, children naturally ask for snacks and souvenirs on vacation. Before you go, explain that the money set aside for the trip will be spent on fun outings together as a family, not on stuff. If need be, remind them of that. The activities you share will reinforce the message.

5. Use an allowance

Instead of choosing what to buy for your child and saying no the rest of the time, give your child a weekly allowance that she can spend on anything she wants. Make sure she understands that once the money is gone you won’t buy anything for her; she’ll have to wait until next week.

6. Set a budget

Here’s another way to prevent shopping trips from turning into “I want” and “no” battles: Teach your child some basics about budgeting. For example, when your child needs new school clothes, give him a set amount and let him pick out what he wants (with some gentle guidance from you, of course).

7. Say it a different way

If I hear “no” over and over, I stop hearing the actual words and instead feel like I’m in a cloud of negativity. After a while, I’ll just tune that person out. Kids aren’t much different. Try a positive approach. For instance, instead of telling your child to stop doing something, give him a nonjudgmental instruction that produces the same result. Another example: Consider giving a small reward for good behavior at the grocery store.

8. Be honest

I know plenty of parents who want their children to believe they can provide everything the children could possibly want, but real life doesn’t work that way. If you can’t afford it, be honest. For example, if your child wants to play a sport with pricey equipment, explain that it isn’t in your budget and ask your child to come up with a cheaper alternative.

9. Keep your explanations age-appropriate

Your child’s reasoning skills develop with age. If you have a toddler in the house, a lengthy conversation won’t work, but a preteen would appreciate knowing why you said no. PBS.org has some other tips about how to communicate effectively with children of various ages.

10. Offer to reconsider later

If your child asks for something you really can’t do right now, like take a trip to the park or library, say “Not right now” instead of a simple “no,” and provide an explanation. Your child will appreciate being heard.

It’s natural to feel guilty when saying no. After all, what’s more negative than “no”? Plus, it’s often the easiest thing to do. But remember: Your kids will have plenty of friends in their lives, but they’ll have only one guide to help them develop an understanding of the importance of delayed gratification. That’s you.

How do you handle situations like this with your children? Tell us on our Facebook page. 

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  • GolfKen

    I disagree with the ‘allowance’. I believe kids need to learn early in life that you work for what you get & you save until you can afford to buy it. (most things) Anything less than that develops the ‘you owe me’ attitude that is paralyzing us today.

  • Ali

    Wow, your allowance was $20 a week? Spoiled kid :) Here is another idea: have your child “work” for his money, by doing chores. Assign a monetary payment for mowing the lawn, etc. That is a better way to teach your child how to earn money and feel good about being rewarded for his hard work, instead of just being given money for no real reason.

  • EASSS

    No Allowance as well.

  • Sean Cammack

    I never had an allowance growing up, and I’m very grateful I didn’t. I had my first job at eight years old, and I soon learned the value of a dollar!

    • Elizabeth

      My first paying job as a youngster, I would go wash a elderly person clothes (using a wringer type washing machine in the early 50′s). I baby sat for fifty cent an hour, and ended up only making $2.50 for my neighbors kid. When I was a young teenager, I would go clean a ladies house, vacuum the rooms, I got paid $5.00 which I saved, so I could go see a movie on the weekend. My parents were too poor to give me any spending money. Most of my friends of today, just allow their kids to be lazy, no chores of any kind. The kids put too many demands upon their parents, and the parents just give in to the demands. When I was a youngster , I learned fast the value of a dollar. Now I am a senior citizen and watch every dollar I spend.

  • BobintheHeights

    A kid getting $20 a week? Seriously? And then saying “how can anyone survive on $20 a week (talking about some kid that’s getting that much allowance). That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I don’t know any kid who gets that kind of allowance. I used to get $1.00 a week but believe me I worked hard for that dollar. I cleaned house every Saturday and was happy to get that dollar. Another reason this “entitlement” society is messed up.