· · · · · ·

Teaching Tweens and Teens to Say “No”: Empowering Assertiveness and Boundaries

Discovering that your tween or teen has engaged in activities like drinking, having sex, vaping, doing drugs, sneaking out, breaking the law, or any behavior where you wish they would have said no can be heartbreaking. You might wonder how this happened, especially when you’ve instilled values in them that you thought were clear. 

Many of the moms I’ve worked with have shared similar stories and mentioned that their kids often wanted to say no but didn’t know how in the moment.

Saying no is not easy. It can be difficult enough for us as adults, but it is especially difficult for our tweens and teens when they crave acceptance and want to fit in and be liked during this stage of development.

How can you help your tween or teen develop the confidence to resist peer pressure and stand firm in their decisions, even when it means going against the crowd?   Teaching tweens and teens to say no can be a challenge.

At this age, they lack experience in saying “No” and struggle to find the right words when faced with difficult situations. As parents, one of our essential responsibilities is equipping our kids with skills when they face challenges. One of the most critical skills for them to learn is the ability to say “no” effectively. This skill helps them establish and maintain healthy boundaries, empowers them to make choices aligned with their values, sustains their well-being, and keeps them safe and healthy.

Saying no is like a muscle that needs to be developed and strengthened. It takes time, effort, practice, and experience to have the ability to assert ourselves with confidence. As parents, we can play a big part in helping our kids learn when and how to say “no.”

Teaching tweens and teens to say “No” with confidence and courage.

There are six important steps to help your tween or teen develop this critical life skill. Read these key points carefully and do what you can to implement them with your tween or teen.

Discuss the Importance of Self-Respect and Setting Boundaries

Self-respect and setting boundaries are deeply interconnected. When it comes to teaching our kids to say no, we can fall into the trap of saying something like – “Don’t do __________(fill in the blank)” or “Say no to _________” rather than discussing the importance of our tweens and teens respecting themselves.

Self-respect starts with setting a boundary with someone and telling them no to something that doesn’t feel good to you.

When teaching our kids about self-respect, we need to engage in meaningful conversations about the concept of boundaries. 

How we might do this…

Explain that boundaries are about self-care and self-respect. 

Boundaries define how others may treat us and who we are, what we like and don’t like, and what we do and don’t tolerate. They keep the good in and the bad out. When we set boundaries, we practice good self-care and protect and respect ourselves.

Boundaries are saying no to things we don’t like or want to do and having the freedom to say yes to what we genuinely enjoy and want to pursue.

Boundaries are respecting our values, time, preferences, and what makes you comfortable. 

It’s important for our kids to know that everyone has the right to set boundaries to feel safe and respected in their interactions with others. 

Here are some good questions to ask when they are faced with a choice around setting limits or boundaries

  • “Do you really want to say yes?
  • “Is this something you really want to do?”
  • “How do you feel about saying yes or no?”
  • “Is that something that you’re comfortable with?”
  • “On a scale from 1-10, how strong is your yes?”
  • “How will you feel if you say yes? How will you feel if you say no?”
  • “How can you take care of yourself in that situation?”

Provide Language and Phrases

One of the biggest reasons tweens and teens engage in behaviors that they aren’t comfortable with is that they lack the language to say no.

Discuss what they might say when confronted with different situations like we discussed above.

It can be helpful to provide them with specific phrases they can use to say no and use them to model this behavior when you need to say no to something or someone, too. 

Some examples include:

  • “No, thank you.”
  • “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
  • “My parents would kill me.”
  • “I’m not comfortable with that.”
  • “I don’t want to.”
  • “That doesn’t work for me.”
  • “I have other things I have to do.”
  • “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’ll have to pass.”
  • “I have to decline, but I hope you understand.”
  • “I’m not able to participate, but I appreciate you asking.”
  • “I need to prioritize other things right now.”
  • “I’m going to have to say no, but I hope we can find another time to connect.”
  • “I’d love to help, but I’m not available.”

Practicing with them and having these phrases in their vocabulary (and our own) can help them assert themselves more easily in real-life situations.

Role Play With Them

Saying “No” takes practice. When teens have the opportunity to practice life skills, they gain confidence in their ability to use the skills in real life. Role-playing is a great way to practice saying no. 

How to practice role-playing:

Set aside some time to present your tween or teen with a variety of potential situations that could happen to them where they will have to make this type of decision. Sometimes, it’s hard to find an uninterrupted window of time to have serious conversations with our kids, so you could bring up certain scenarios with them over a meal together, or maybe in the car, or take them out for their favorite treat to have this important talk. Try to pick the most ideal time where your kid will likely be able to focus and open up in this type of conversation. You might have to do it in several shorter talks whenever the time is right.

You can also initiate role-playing by asking your tween or teen what they think are the hardest decisions to make when confronted with peer pressure, negative behavior, or uncomfortable situations. Encourage them to be honest and make sure they feel supported without judgment or punishment.

For example, they might share how they went to a party without their parents at home, and everyone was drinking. So what did they do? Depending on their answer, talk about the different choices they can make in the future.

You can also create specific situations for your kids to consider and discuss their decisions in that scenario. Give them time to think through how they would handle them, and try to be open and willing to listen to them without interrupting with your own opinion. 

You might ask them:

  • “A friend wants to ditch a friend, and you’re not comfortable doing that. What do you say?”
  • “You get to a party, and the friend who drove you starts drinking, so what do you do? What do you say?”
  • “A boy pressures you to engage in a sexual act, and you don’t want to. What will you say?”

Be On The Lookout For Discussion Opportunities

TV shows can be great opportunities for conversations around assertiveness, setting boundaries, and saying no. 

Here are a few ideas:

When you’re watching a TV show or movie, and you come across a situation that your tween or teen might be confronted with, you can ask them the following questions:

  • “What do you think about what just happened?”
  • “Do you think they wanted to say yes?”
  • “What do you think was going through their mind?”
  • “What do you think you would have said if you were _____character?”

Or, you find an opening in a conversation where your tween or teen is sharing about someone or a particular situation that happened, when appropriate you can ask something like, 

  • “What do you think about that?” 
  • “What do you think they should do?”

Perhaps it’s about their friend’s boyfriend, and they share that they don’t like him. You might ask them, 

  • “What don’t you like about him?”
  •  “What might you do if you were to have someone like that ask you out?” 

Another opportunity for good boundaries discussions is when you are confronted with a situation and can ask for their opinion and discuss different options. 

Taking advantage of these opportunities will help them strengthen their problem-solving skills and apply them in different situations and relationships.

Encourage them to blame you (at least in these situations, they can have a reason!)

When your tween or teen is confronted with a difficult situation – either the parents aren’t home, kids are drinking or using drugs, they feel unsafe, or they are uncomfortable with something that is happening – blaming YOU provides a perfect excuse and exit plan.

Share with your tween or teen that they can always blame you when they are confronted with situations that make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and they want to say no or go home.

Discuss what the potential situations might be and what they might do.

Allow them to come up with a few options – perhaps it’s sending you a text.

This is where a code word can be extremely helpful. They text you a code word, and you can then call or text them to tell them they need to come home right away.

Think through some ideas with them and create a code word and situation they can offer as an excuse to share with their friends.

Model Saying No

The old adage is so true: “Our kids learn more from what is caught than taught.” One of the most powerful ways to support our kids’ assertiveness and ability to say no is to practice assertiveness in our own interactions, showing them how to say no respectfully and confidently. 

For those of us who tend to be people-pleasers, we can take on this challenge and include our kids in our learning and growth process.

Let your tween or teen hear you say no to an invitation: “Thank you so much for the invite, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it.”

Or, you can set a boundary with your work: “I am in the middle of a project right now. After my deadline, I will be available to work on the project on the 7th.”

Or negotiating a situation: “Thank you for thinking of me. I can’t host the event, but I’d be happy to bring dessert.” 

Or in your relationship with them, “I don’t like that you said that to me.” or “I can’t take you right now. I can take you in two hours when I’m done with this.” 

Teaching tweens and teens to say no is a vital skill that empowers them to establish boundaries, make decisions aligned with their values, and maintain their well-being. While saying no can be challenging, especially for tweens and teens seeking acceptance, it is a crucial part of their development and safety. By discussing self-respect and boundaries, providing language and phrases, role-playing scenarios, seizing discussion opportunities, encouraging them to use parents as an excuse, and modeling assertiveness- you can equip your kids with the tools they need to confidently and effectively say no. This ongoing process of learning and practicing assertiveness will help them navigate peer pressure and difficult situations with greater confidence and resilience.

Similar Posts