Your no makes me feel safe

Feb, 12, 2020

If we didn’t already feel comfortable saying no and setting boundaries before children – becoming a parent offers daily (if not hourly) opportunities to practice this art.

And I say art.
Because there is more to saying no than merely uttering this two letter word. Saying no is a powerful process. It has the power to affect both us – and our child – and therefore you may recognise some of these thoughts – when asked to give your child a yes or a no – or communicating a limit:

  • What do I actually feel about this?
  • What will happen if I say no?
  • Can I be asked to deal with the aftermath (read; crying, protesting child)
  • Life is hard for my child at the moment – I feel punitive if I don’t allow
  • I feel rushed
  • I don’t want to compromise connection with my child.

What we think about boundaries – informs HOW go about saying no

We all have personal experience of boundaries. Growing up – the no we got may have felt harsh and shaming and therefore saying no feels negative.

Perhaps you grew up in a family where you would be told yes – only to witness your parents explode over something seemingly minor and unrelated because they had given more than they wanted.

The messages that we have received around boundary setting are powerful. Unless we expose these thoughts and become aware of what thoughts and beliefs we hold – we will find that it can be difficult to get better at boundary setting.
Why – because our actions flow from our thoughts and beliefs.

Rattling the bar

The truth is – boundaries are essential in any relationship. They keep us and the other person safe. Knowing where you’ve got someone – not having to second guess that the yes they give means yes and not no – frees us from having to analyse, infer and second guess. Boundaries makes a child feel safe – knowing that they are contained. And it is though our willingness to communicate our boundaries – our likes and dislikes, values and thoughts, that our children come to know us – and know themselves.

I once heard someone liken what happens on a fairground ride, when the bar comes down before take off, to what happens following a clear and respectful no. Every child will immediately rattle the bar.


To check if they’re safe.

Clear is kind

Thinking of your child as just ‘rattling the bar’ when you offer a clear yet respectful no and your child has a reaction – might help you stay more firmly rooted in your boundary. Trusting that it isn’t about power struggles – but about feeling safe and contained. And that you are capable of being that container for your child – momentarily hated. But deeply appreciated for keeping your child safe.

When we feel unclear about our boundaries – it is easy to become vague – and appeal to the child to be more reasonable:

‘You’ve already had sweets’

‘Can I please just sit here and relax for five minutes’

‘Why don’t you go do it yourself’

‘Is that really necessary’?

Hidden behind the words in all these statements is a no that it is up to the child to find. This is taxing – and not always possible. And in their search for what they came for (an answer) they often continue asking until we eventually snap.

The no that we didn’t want to reject them with – now hurts even more. Because what comes out of our mouths when we’ve had enough is often far worse.

Being clear is therefore kind. And children are capable of the truth. A no said in a friendly tone:

“No – right now I want to relax”

“I don’t want you to have anymore sweets right now”

“I would like you to try yourself. And if that doesn’t work let me know”

These are clear statements that says something about you – and nothing about the child. You will find that the more often you can communicate with your child without using too many words or lengthy explanations – the easier it it for your child to hear you. And accept what you are saying.

This is a good place to start

  • Be clear
  • Notice if you are trying to change your child in order not to have to give an answer; ‘Stop wanting’ / ‘You always want’ / over-explaining and justifying.
  • Trust that desire is healthy. And the ability to ask for what we want in life is a good thing.
  • Trust that your child CAN accept a no – and feels safe knowing where he stands.
  • Remember that a child needs to mourn what he can’t have or do.

‘Say no – successfully’ workshop

Joining one of my upcoming ‘Say no- successfully’ workshops in Cobham’s Medicine Garden offers an excellent opportunity to get comfortable with setting boundaries and communicating more clearly to your child where you stand.

Besides boosting your own esteem and self-respect, learning how to respond to aftermath of a no, rattling of the bar, and the endless negotiations that often follow a no – is one of the fastest ways to cultivate more connection and joy in your family.

To learn more – click here:

Louise Brooks

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