“Mom, I really want to get this remote control helicopter. This is what I need. I’m serious!”

I sighed, frustrated.

My eight year old was asking me–no, begging me–again after doing “research” on Target and Amazon during his screen time.

And there was a part of me that wanted to just give in. He wasn’t asking for it in a demanding way. You could just tell that he REALLY wanted that remote control helicopter.

Really, though, I knew that I had to say no. It’s not that a helicopter was bad, it was just that I promised myself I would stop buying things for the kids “just because”. 

I’m not a big spender, in fact when I buy things, I get them on sale or for a great deal. But I love new things as much as the next person, which leads me to probably buy things I don’t even need because they’re a cheap deal. 

Because my children had observed that habit over the years, they had learned how to fill a current “need” (in their mind) by just buying something, even if it wasn’t a special occasion and they hadn’t saved for it. 

How to Handle Saying No to Your Kids the Right Way

So, I set to work on changing that particular habit of “immediate gratification”. But now I didn’t just have myself to say “no” to, I now had to retrain my kids to accept the “no” from me.

And it was NOT fun! I feel bad saying no, and I hate seeing my kids disappointed, especially because a lot of what they ask for is small and attainable for us.

But when I started looking beyond the momentary discomfort of denying my children things they really want, I realized that saying no (in ANY particular area of parenting) is part of teaching character development. 

This recent experience got me thinking about how character training is a slow process. And it often involves learning something about ourselves along the way.

It’s important for our kids not only to hear the word ‘no’. but respect the ‘no’ as well.

Let’s talk about how to make that happen in our homes as Christian parents!

How to say no to your kids and get them to accept it even when its hard

Saying No is Part of Godly Parenting

First, some important principles to keep in mind.

As Christian parents, we want to reflect God’s character so our kids can see a bigger picture of what life is about. 

What is life about? So many things, of course! But the foundation for our life of faith is that Jesus died and rose to forgive us of our sins so we can have eternal life and be restored to our relationship with God!

Because of Jesus’ great love for us, we are able to reflect His character in our daily lives and teach our kids to do the same. This affects the way they live in the world, interact with each other and interact with us as their parents.

And most importantly, reflecting God’s truth involves talking to them about that glorious salvation that is freely offered to us in Christ!

We must always start from the place of sharing the gospel with our kids, otherwise character training simply turns into a set of do’s and don’t’s.

“We love because He first loved us.” The love of Christ is reflected in us through His grace. Keep this in mind as you parent, and especially as you say no.

The Purpose for Saying No

Part of the purpose for saying ‘no’ is because we want our kids to understand limits. Because we live in a fallen world, we’re born with a splintered understanding of love and limits. 

A toddler will rebel against limits placed on him, like not letting him climb on the table at any time.

Your 7 year old will protest when you don’t let him spend hours on the iPad.

My 14 year old gets upset when I tell him to hand over his phone at night. 

And that makes sense. We all feel a sense of entitlement and wanting something “right now”. It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that we’re all still working on self-limitations and immediate gratification, even as adults. 

We can find a way as parents to empathize with their disappointment, while still allowing our kids experience disappointment. 

5 Important Things Limits Teach Our Children

But when we set limits and say no, we are helping our kids understand:

  • That life isn’t made up of limitless “yes”. There will always be things that we can’t and shouldn’t do.
  • That redirecting isn’t always the answer. Sometimes we’re told “just redirect your toddler rather than saying no.” But that will not work as they grow older {I have four kids, so I speak from painful experience! :) }
  • There is a need for self-control and understanding how to place boundaries around impulses that, while they may seem like a good idea at the time, are actually going to harm us. 
  • That we still love them, immeasurably, even if we can’t say ‘yes’ to everything. 
  • That loving them is exactly WHY we say no. Hebrews says that no discipline seems pleasant at the moment, but later it yields “the peaceable fruit of righteousness”. What a beautiful truth to know that our kids gain character when they learn to press through and respect our ‘no’.

So should we say NO all the time so our kids “know their limits” and learn to “get in line”? Of course not! We should still say YES quite often!

But it is much easier as moms to take the path of least resistance. So we really do have to remind ourselves that saying no is often times what is best for our children in the long run.

Kids aren’t born with boundaries or impulse control. It takes time, but it’s up to us to help them understand what this looks like.

Dr. John Townsend, author of the book Boundaries for Kids, says that “boundaries are an external structure that mom and dad provide that give the child an internal structure of controlling their behavior, focusing on tasks and being kind to others.”

Saying no can actually help foster a more peaceful relationship between us and our children. When you say no, allow them to be frustrated, but then coach them on how to get through that frustration.

And don’t forget that we can still take the opportunity in the ‘no’ to express our love for them (Ephesians 4:29 encourages us to build our kids up, and we can do this even while we are setting limits) and, if they’re old enough, explain to them why we said no and stick to our decision, even if they’re upset. 

Why should we parent this way? Because it gently pushes our children in the direction of pursuing righteousness and understanding healthy limits and boundaries so they can carry that skill into adulthood. 

It also helps them to see that life isn’t just about giving into every whim, but being able to discern what is good and what is not good for our bodies, hearts and minds.

In what areas are you struggling to say no to your children?

I’d love to write some more blog posts on exactly how to address specific situations regarding setting limits for kids from a Christian parenting perspective.

So be sure to leave your comment about where you’re struggling to say no or set limits with your kids and then subscribe via email in the box at the end of this post so you can be updated when I write more on this topic! 

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