To the Parent Afraid to Say “No”

Written By

Paige Shiels
January 13, 2022

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

Do you struggle to say “No,” “Stop,” “I can’t let you,” or “I won’t let you” to your kids?
If you answered yes to this, you might be a people-pleaser. Many people-pleasers started as parent-pleasers.

If you grew up needing to keep the peace in your home or felt like you had to act a certain way to earn your parents’ praise or affection, you might have learned to rely on others being happy with you to feel good enough. 

These people-pleasing tendencies can show up as we parent our little kids. 

It often looks like a fear of setting boundaries or looking like “the bad guy.” It can show up in parenting as fearing your child won’t love you as much if you say no. It comes from the value of wanting our kids to see us as “good.” We want to be good parents, we want them to love us, and we want them to want to be in a relationship with us. These aren’t bad things.

However, if we are parenting from a core fear of: if my child is mad at me, then I am a bad parent, we can get stuck in some really challenging situations.

You might allow your child to dictate their own bedtime because you don’t want them to be upset with you.

You might allow your child to ruin things that are important to you (ex. colouring on your couch) because you are worried they will be mad if you take the marker away.

You might even buy the three toys your child put in the shopping cart because you want to avoid a tantrum.

Parenting from a place of always needing children to be happy with us to feel like we are good parents, leads to feeling hurt and disappointed over and over. 

You Can Break the Cycle

Breaking these cycles of people-pleasing can be challenging. It starts with being able to set boundaries with your children (and others) and realizing boundaries are loving to both our children and ourselves.

It’s ok for you to tell your child: 
“It is time for bed.”
“I can’t let you play with this marker near the couch.”
“We won’t be buying any toys at the store today. We are only going to get groceries.”

It is also ok if they are angry about this. 

The Boundary Has Been Set; Now What?

1. Connect With the Feelings

When children feel like we don’t get them, they often get angrier – they want to make sure we truly understand the magnitude of their feeling. Let them know you see, hear, and understand how this boundary makes them feel. 

Our instinct is often to dismiss their feelings and tell them to stop “being mad”.

“It’s just a toy car; you have hundreds of them at home. You don’t need another one.”

Instead, it’s more powerful for us to see their want.

“I get that you really want me to buy that toy car for you.”

We can even take it a step further and imagine out loud how fun it would be.

“It would be so fun to bring that toy car home and play with it! You could race it with your other cars and put it down your favourite ramp. I get it; it’s so fun to get new toys.”

2. Set Boundaries Around the Behaviour

As we connect with the feeling, we can set boundaries around the behaviour.

“We are not going to buy any toys at the store today. We are just here to get some groceries. I see that’s tough.”

They may very well have tears about this boundary, and that’s ok! They are allowed to have tears while we confidently hold this boundary. We can stay curious about why this boundary is so hard for them – maybe they are tired, hungry, need to move their bodies, or love the toy and want to bring it home. 

“I see your tears; it’s ok to be sad about it.”

Allowing tears while holding boundaries gives our children a safe space to lay down their big feelings before moving forward. 

3. Move Forward

As you move forward, if your child is able, you could imagine what it would look like next time when you don’t have to set this boundary. You could tell them the story of when you were a child, and the same thing happened, or you can say to them the story of how they coped with their big feelings. 

“Hey buddy, I know it was hard to leave the store without the toy car. I wonder what it would be like to play with it? What would you do first?”

“When I was a kid, Grandma took me to the store with her, and there was a doll that I really wanted! I was really sad when Grandma said no, but we played together with the dolls I already had when we got home. It was sad not to get a new doll, but I had so much fun playing with Grandma and my other dolls.”

“Hey, sweetie! I know it was really tough when you couldn’t buy the toy car at the store today. You were really sad about it and let out some tears. When we got home, we played with your cars, and you remembered how fun the ones you already have are!”

Boundaries and Love Co-Exist

It’s ok for my child to be mad at me. 

My child is allowed to ask me for the world, and I am allowed to say no. 

I can be a good parent, AND my child can be upset when I tell them they can’t have another toy.

Setting boundaries that protect your mental health, your child’s safety, or another’s safety is a loving thing to do.

For more on how to confidently set boundaries, explore our online Setting Boundaries course!

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    Article By

    Paige Shiels
    Paige is an Early Childhood Educator with a passion for supporting children and families. As a Registered Early Childhood Educator with a Bachelor’s degree in Youth and Children’s Studies, Paige has been working with children and families for over 10 years. She has experience in children’s programming, child care centres, and supporting families at early learning centres. At Nurtured First, Paige has been a part of creating resources for parents and supporting families through our online groups and discussions. She loves having the opportunity to help families create deep, meaningful and nurturing relationships with their children. Outside of her professional life, Paige loves spending time with friends and family and travelling to new places.