Let Her Say No.

Why we should let girls say no more often. This was an interesting perspective. It's true, we really do spend a lot of time trying to get a "yes" out of our kids, even in times when it isn't really necessary.

The fair is coming back to our city this week. That, combined with all the recent controversy about this post, reminded me of one of the most important parenting decisions we have had to make so far, which happened in the middle of that very fair last year. 

We were exhausted. Our house was on the market, Penny was an infant and our older children were still young, ages 5 and 3. One night we decided that, in the name of providing good memories and life experiences, we would brave the crowd and the insane parking and fork over the cash to take the kids to the County Fair. We pushed our stroller around barn animals and bought cotton candy and stood in line forever for ride tickets. 

Nicholas was in seventh heaven, dragging us all with him as he sprinted from ride to ride, some of them two or three times. Abby was too scared to get on the rides.

My husband tried to encourage her, but she kept saying no.

At first we were both a little frustrated. We had driven past these rides several times for the past few days, and each time she would beg to stop the car so that she go on the Merry Go Round. But now she had tears in her eyes and fear in her heart as she stood in front of the giant slide or next to the ferris wheel. 

As I listened to Eddie try to coax her onto the rides, my heart sank. It was no fault of his. He was being a good dad. He just wanted to show her that she could overcome that fear and have fun.

“Come on, Honey. I’ll be right here with you the whole time. You don’t have to be scared. You can trust me. I love you.” 

I knew.

I knew in ten or twelve or twenty years she would hear those same words from another boy or another man, but the stakes would be much higher.

And when my daughters hear those words, as I know they will, I want them to be able to say “No.” and say it over and over again if they have to.

Because even after they say the words there will be still be coaxing and temptation and misplaced logic, even if it comes from men with the best of intentions and with the purest of upbringings.

 It is our job to teach them that they never have to do something that makes them uncomfortable.  

Even if it means disappointing someone. Even if that someone is me or their father or the love of their life.

No means no. Always.

We can tell them with our words, but if they have never seen it work in practice how can they understand? 

If they have always been coaxed into doing things that they did not want to do in the name of “fun” and making other people happy, how can we expect them to stand up for themselves when it matters?

We have to show our daughters (and our sons) RIGHT NOW that we respect their “No.” It doesn’t matter if she is only three or that I know she will enjoy the merry go round if she gives it a try. 

The County Fair is the perfect place to practice when the stakes are low. We can plant seeds of encouragement in our girls at the same time that we let their brothers see examples of what their reaction should look like when someone says no.

 I pulled my husband aside and explained what I thought we needed to do and he agreed.

Seeing the relief in my daughter’s face as her daddy hugged her and told her he would never make her do anything that made her heart feel bad was worth a million wasted ride tickets.

Yes, we walked away with extra tickets, passing them on to another family who was entering the fair just as we were leaving. 

It was the best $20 I ever wasted.




  1. Oh I love this!! You are so right. I let my children say no to things they are uncomfortable with but I never thought about the future “no” they might be faced with. I let them say no because I can remember being a child and people trying to coax me into things I was scared to do. I was allowed to say no too!! Honestly, thinking back to my past this might have really helped me say no to drugs when my friends teased me or sex when my boyfriend got really mad. I laughed in that poor guys face,broke up with him and drove away feeling strong and capable!! You are a genius!!!

    • I agree. Good for you! I never really had a problem saying no to peer pressure as a teenager either and I think it was most likely because I wasn’t forced to do things that made me uncomfortable when I was very timid as a younger child.

  2. Good job, Mama! I wonder if I’d be more likely to allow my daughter to say no than my son? It’s important for everyone to learn that they have ownership of their own bodies. Peer pressure comes in lots of situations later on. I will definitely keep this post in mind!

  3. Love this! This is an important lesson that I need to learn, too. Thanks for writing this!

  4. what a powerful message! one I will pass this on to my grown children to teach THEIR kids when they come along. it’s too late for me with my kids and I look back on times when this exact same scenario came up and cringe. I guess we all learn along the way. thank you for sharing!

  5. Beautiful post my friend.

  6. Amber @ Dessert Now, Dinner Later! says:

    I love this! I have tried doing this myself with my own children. My son doesn’t like to hug right now. I don’t ever force him to hug us or his grandparents even if it makes me or them sad. It is his choice & if he’s not comfortable, then we don’t make him do it.

  7. This post was just what I needed to read to confirm that my 3 yr old daughter knows just what she’s doing. She is in a stage right now where she doesn’t want to talk to others (mostly adults), not even to say hi. I try and coax her, especially during the times when it’s considered proper etiquette, but my daughter is firm. I was thinking why it was so important for me to have her respond to people and realized that it was more for me – so that others would think I’m raising a sweet, nice girl. But she’s her own person and like your post, I want her to know that it’s okay to say no. Thank you!

  8. This post really resonates with me – such a powerful message! Sharing everywhere.

  9. Very important lesson! I agree as a mom and as an educator! Great topic! (Pinned it here http://pinterest.com/lnmontessori/smart-girls/.)

  10. You rock, and you guys are an awesome parenting pair. Thanks for recognizing the tough lessons and sharing them here.

  11. This was definitely a thought provoking article. I have a 10 year old daughter myself and I know the days are coming soon when she’ll be in a position to say yes or no to any number of things both good and bad. The overall sentiment that you’re conveying to us, that no means no, is one that both girls and boys need to learn. I get what you’re saying. I agree with what you’re saying. I also think that the lesson was incomplete. I want my daughter to have the confidence to say “No” in those difficult situations just as you do. What I Don’t want though is for her to be making those decisions based only on fear. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to sex or drugs, I Want that fear to be there but I don’t want it to be the only thing. I want her thinking and seeking for all of the reasons to say no, not just her emotions.

    Your message was to all of us, to listen when someone is saying no, but your message to Penny was, if you’re afraid of something, you don’t have to. Rickety fair rides are one thing but what if Penny wants someday to try out for her school play? Interview for a job? Take her driver’s license test with a grouchy looking cop as her evaluator? Those things are all really scary but also worth pushing your fear aside and trying even if the end result is uncertain.

    Your Penny was afraid to go on the rides and Dad was doing his best to reassure her, not for his own personal gain as might an overeager teenage boy in the backseat of a car, but as her father; as someone whose job it is to encourage her to try new things; someone who knows that going out of your comfort zone will lead to growth; someone who is her primary example of love and trust. I don’t know how old Penny is. Whatever her age I realize that she’s just a little girl and looking at the big picture isn’t within her abilities –yet. (I also totally get that some battles are just not worth it, $20 or not!) But here is the place where we need to be laying the groundwork for when our girls are out on their own and those situations arise we’ll have given them the confidence to look at the whole situation and make informed, intelligent choices. Let her say no with confidence.

  12. This is fantastic – truly, your message will be in my heart the next time one of my kids says no and I think they’re just being stubborn or that I have some really great reason they should say yes. Thanks for this.

  13. Love, love, love this. Pinned it.

  14. WOW – so incredibly powerful, Stephanie. My daughter is 10 now, and I’m wondering if I have failed her on this. I will definitely be on the lookout for appropriate ways to let her say no now. Thank you!

  15. This is fanstastic. I’ve been losing sight of this with my own children. Thank you for the timely article.

    Re: to Jen A.: you’re providing some anecdotal evidence, so I’d like to add some of my own (and who knows if both or neither of us is right, right? ;)).

    As a very cautious child, I wanted to go my own pace. My parents were loving yet impatient pushers-of-experience and I, I think understandably, only learned to 1. acquiesce and lose my guiding center, or 2. dig in my heels and know the price was disappointment and alienation. I never once appreciated an experience after I was bullied into it, I instead grew oddly strong aversions to the things my parents pushed the most. After landing in therapy with some disordered behaviors, my psychologist confirmed this phenomenon is not just in my head but very common with a very real psychological link.

    It’s human nature to challenge oneself; it’s only personally fulfilling when you find the strength within to do so, not when you bend to external pressure.

    So! There’s my own bit of history. Just one story, but I thought it might lend a little extra information.

    Cheers 🙂

  16. Parents sometimes don’t realize that the most powerful lessons that will carry through their lives (and PROTECT THEM) often come in small moments, teachable, tiny moments. I loved this. I shared on my Savvy Parents Safe Kids Facebook page, as I think that this is also the recipe in preventing sexual abuse too.

  17. Good point, Katedaily, you are right. I’m that way every time I have to do any complicated math since I equate that with a lot of tears and yelling. Pushing someone to do something doesn’t develop strong decision making skills either. I think my biggest concern is that if I’m only taking my daughter’s fear-of-the-new into consideration when she’s deciding *not* to do something — what happens when she’s NOT afraid? What happens when she’s in the back seat of the car and she’s only thinking ‘I luuv him!’ and there isn’t any fear? What I was trying to say is we need to teach our kids, boys and girls, to look past the knee-jerk reactions of either NO, that looks scary or YES, that looks awesome. I want my daughter to think not just about feelings but about the consequences of her decisions. Not riding the rides doesn’t have much consequence in the bigger scheme of things, sure, but skill building with small decisions leads to a stronger skill overall for when the really big choices come up.

  18. This is really so important. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately with my own daughter and how I can empower her to say no. I shared this on my site’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lightbulbparenting. Great post!


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