Just Say No!


"The Terrific Twos mark the beginning (where a child begins separating from its parents). In this period a child learns that his name is "Don't". The child starts saying "No" and this is wonderful. If we would allow children to say no the way nature and God designed it, we wouldn't have as many molested children and we wouldn't have to have a national campaign trying to teach teenagers to just say "no". Child molesters are like hunters going after prey. They know to look for the most needy and the most obedient child on the playground."(Bradshaw, 1988).

The campaign to teach children to "Just Say No!" is not as simple as it sounds. Teaching a child to say no to drugs, or anything else, begins in earliest childhood, when a parent respects the child's boundaries, listens to their feelings and allows them to exercise their right to say no. Being assertive enough to say "No!" requires practice. Obedience teaches just the opposite, that the child's no does not count. Cloud and Townsend (1992) explain how parents can teach a child to say no.

"Consider the following two twelve-year-old boys:

Jimmy is talking with his parents at the dinner table. 'Guess what-some kids wanted me to smoke pot with them. When I told them I didn't want to, they said I was a sissy. I told them they were dumb. I like some of them, but if they can't like me because I don't smoke pot, I guess they aren't really my friends.'

Paul comes home from school with red eyes, slurred speech, and coordination difficulties. When asked by his concerned parents what is wrong, he denies everything until, finally, he blurts out, 'Everybody's doing it. Why do you hate my friends?'

Both Jimmy and Paul come from Christian homes with lots of love and an adherence to biblical values. Why did they turn out so differently? Jimmy's family allowed disagreements between parent and child and gave him practice in the skill of boundary setting, even with them. Jimmy's mom would be holding and hugging her two-year-old when he would get fidgety. He'd say, 'down,' meaning 'Let me get a little breathing space. Ma.' Fighting her own impulses to hold on to her child, she would set him down on the floor and say, 'Wanna play with your trucks?'

Jimmy's Dad used the same philosophy. When wrestling with his son on the floor, he tried to pay attention to Jimmy's limits. When the going got too rough, or when Jimmy was tired, he could say, 'Stop Daddy,' and Dad would get up. They'd go to another game.

Jimmy was receiving boundary training. He was learning that when he was scared, in discomfort, or wanted to change things, he could say no. This little word gave him a sense of power in his life. It took him out of a helpless or compliant position. And Jimmy could say it without receiving an angry or hurt response, or a manipulative countermove, such as, 'But Jimmy, Mommy needs to hold you now, okay?'

Jimmy learned from infancy on, that his boundaries were good and that he could use them to protect himself. He learned to resist things that weren't good for him.

A hallmark of Jimmy's family was permission to disagree. When, for example, Jimmy would fight his parents about his bedtime, they never withdrew or punished him for disagreeing. Instead, they would listen to his reasoning, and, if it seemed appropriate, they would change their minds. If not, they would maintain their boundaries.

Jimmy was also given a vote in some family matters. When family night out would come up, his parents listened to his opinion on whether they should go to a movie, play board games, or play basketball. Was this a family with no limits? On the contrary It was a family who took boundary setting seriously-as a skill to develop in its children.

This was good practice for resisting in the evil day (Eph. 5:16), when some of Jimmy's friends turned on him and pressured him to take drugs. How was Jimmy able to refuse? Because, by then, he'd had ten or twelve years of practice disagreeing with people who were important to him without losing their love. He didn't fear abandonment in standing up against his friends. He'd done it many times successfully with his family with no loss of love.

Paul, on the other hand, came from a different family setting. In his home, no had two different responses. His mom would be hurt and withdraw and pout. She would send guilt messages, such as 'How can you say no to your mom who loves you?' His Dad would get angry, threaten him, and say things like, 'Don't talk back to me, Mister.'

It didn't take long for Paul to learn that to have his way, he had to be externally compliant. He developed a strong yes on the outside, seeming to agree with his family's values and control. Whatever he thought about a subject-the dinner menu, TV restrictions, church choices, clothes, or curfews-he stuffed inside.

Once, when he had tried to resist his mother's hug, she had immediately withdrawn from him, pushing him away with the words, 'Someday you'll feel sorry for hurting your mother's feelings like that.' Day by day, Paul was being trained t o not set limits.

As a result of his learned bounderylessness, Paul seemed to be a content, respectful son. The teens, however, are a crucible for kids. We find out what kind of character has actually been built into our children during this difficult passage.

Paul folded. He gave in to his friends' pressure. Is it any wonder that the first people he said no to were his parents-at twelve years old? Resentment and the years of not having boundaries were beginning to erode the compliant, easy-to-live-with false self he'd developed to survive."


Bradshaw, John (1988). Bradshaw on the Family, a Revolutionary Way to Self-Discovery. Deerfield Beach, FL:Health Communications, pg. 150.

Cloud, Henry, & Townsend, John (1992) "Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life," Grand Rapids, Michigan:Zondervan Publishing House, pp 173-5.

Last updated 10 August 1999

Copyright © 1998-9 by Duen Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.

E-mail: yen@noogenesis.com

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