As a teacher and principal, I often think about which phrases I use with the most frequency. The top contenders certainly are:

“Way to go!”

“High five!”

“I’m so proud of you.”

But, there’s one that stands above the rest. One that gets more mileage and more vocalization than the others. One that stops (almost all) students in their tracks, at least momentarily, as they go barreling towards a cataclysmic consequence.


And, oh my, the eye rolls with which this word is met.

But, the meltdowns and mayhem that have ceased to ensue when a boundary has been set make the scoffs of my students well worth it. Because no matter how many times I have said this word and how many times it ends up resulting in momentarily strife with the kiddos in my care, I find myself asking:

Why does the word “no” get such a bad rap?

Why do we cringe and shudder when we hear it? Why, when someone tells us “no”, is it our human propensity to want to fight against them, run in the opposite direction, or do whatever we can to convince them to change their mind?

Setting boundaries with your kids is the same. At school, whether it’s trying to convince me that there should be no homework, that they shouldn’t have to wear a jacket in the middle of December, or that using an emoji in the middle of a formal essay is absolutely acceptable, kids want to push boundaries, test limits, and strive to get their own way.

So, again, I have to ask—when did “no” become the villain?

We certainly cannot indulge a child’s tantrum. We cannot reward our kids for poor decision making, apathy in their schoolwork, or causing discord among their peers. We, as the adults in the room and the models for sound character, need them to understand that everything in life functions on the basis of boundaries. Speed limits, bank accounts, credit card balances, and caloric intake. If your children, my students, don’t understand the power, the resolve, the strength that comes from saying “no”, then they will go out into the world, reckless and with never-ceasing abandon.

“No” keeps your children safe. “No” keeps them grounded in the reality that there are times when their behavior needs to be modified. “No” helps them realize that they will not always be catered to and given exactly what they want. And, that’s okay.

The word “no” should be one that is embraced between you and your child because you elaborate with them on the rationale of your boundaries. This does not mean that you negotiate—quite the contrary. You stick to your resolve in knowing that whatever you are saying “no” to has a greater purpose in your child’s development. And, you always help them understand the reasoning behind the “no”.

Take a few examples from my life in school:

Me: “No, you can’t eat Cheetos in class because eating while we are learning is a distraction and creates a mess in our classroom environment. You can, however, make certain– moving forward– that you take time to eat your snack at recess.”

Me: “No, you cannot run in the hallway because it is slippery and could cause injury to yourself and others. If you are worried about being late to class, I would be happy to walk upstairs with you and explain to your teacher why you are delayed.”

Me: “No, you cannot use your cellphone on the play yard because this is an important time for you to take a break from the screen and enjoy being with your friends outside. I will keep your phone safe for you until school is done for the day, and then you can text and call whomever you want.”

Does my series of explanations change their disdain for the parameters I set forth? Nope. But, what it does do is enable my students to understand that I am not saying “no” for no’s sake. Instead, I am letting them know that I care about them, and I have thought through the boundaries that are essential to keeping our school and classroom community running smoothly.

So, let’s work together—you and I—and start to embrace the “no”. And, in the process, we teach our kids to say “yes” to conscientious, responsible choices.

You can read more about the power of “no” and other teacher tips in my new book, The Overly Honest Teacher: Parenting Advice from the Classroom.