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Just Say No

If you had a dollar for every time your child has asked for something, you'd have enough money to fund a presidential campaign, right? We all hate to see our kids unhappy (or spiraling into a major meltdown), so all too often we take the path of least resistance and give in. But the truth is, you'll do your child a big favor by saying "no" more frequently. "Saying no teaches children important lessons -- how to deal with disappointment, how to argue, how to prioritize, and how to strike a balance between work and play -- which are essential experiences that aren't always taught in school," says social psychologist Susan Newman, PhD, author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It -- and Mean It -- and Stop People-Pleasing Forever. "Kids who understand that they can't always have their way will be more likely to be successful in school, relationships, and their careers." Here are nine situations in which Dr. Newman says you should stand firm -- and how to plan your defense.

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The Supermarket Sweet Tooth

At the checkout, your child grabs her favorite candy bar off the rack, holds it up with that pleading look on her face, and reminds you that she did all her chores.

Why you should refuse: You're training her to eat well and establish good nutrition habits for life. Sticking to a no-candy policy at the supermarket helps put her on a healthier path.

How to say no:

  • "You know we don't buy candy every time we go to the store."
  • "No, put it back."

Typical kid comeback:

  • "I'll buy the candy with my own money."

Smart parent responses:

  • "Sorry. My job is to make sure you stay healthy. I have all sorts of treats in our cart."
  • "No means no."

The Must-Have Item

Your son's friend just got a video iPod, and your child wants one too.

Why you should refuse: This is a key opportunity to reinforce your family's values and help your child realize that money doesn't grow on trees. Saying no is a lesson in how the world works: You can't always get what you want.

How to say no:

  • "Wow, that's a pretty big gift and it's not even his birthday. Do you know how much it costs?"

Typical kid comeback:

  • "We can afford it."

Smart parent responses:

  • "We could use that money to help pay for a vacation or to fix our deck so we can all have fun outside."
  • "If you had a video iPod, you'd watch too much TV."

The Dog You'll Be Walking

"I want a dog" is a refrain that lingers in households for years. Your child promises she'll take care of it, and, in theory, she means what she says: "I'll walk him, brush him, and feed him."

Why you should refuse: Don't agree unless you'd really like a dog yourself, because you'll be doing 95 percent of the work -- including the last walk at night after your child's in bed.

How to say no:

  • "I understand you really want a dog, but no."
  • "What have you done to help around the house without my asking that shows me you're ready to take care of a dog?"

Typical kid comeback:

  • "Please! I promise I'll feed him every day."

Smart parent responses:

  • "Since Daddy and I both work, a dog would be home alone too much."
  • "We can talk about this again next year when you're older."

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The Bedtime Stall

Your son took forever to get ready for bed. He wanted a drink of water, remembered something he needed to put in his backpack, and then insisted he had to show you something. Once he's finally settled down, he wants you to read him an extra book.

Why you should refuse: Procrastination like this can become a nightly nightmare. Not only does it eat into storytime, but it can reduce the amount of sleep your child gets (and the time you have to yourself at the end of the day).

How to say no:

  • "That's enough, lights out. Mommy's tired too."

Typical kid comeback:

  • "But you said you'd read me three books tonight."

Smart parent responses:

  • "Yes, I did, but you took too long to get ready."
  • "We would have time if you started getting ready for bed earlier, but that will take away from your playtime."

The Sleepover

Your daughter's best friend invites her to sleep over on Saturday when you have early plans for Sunday. Your daughter begs you to say yes and promises they'll go to bed early.

Why you should refuse: You know that she'll be cranky on Sunday -- as she has been after most sleepovers.

How to say no:

  • "Not this time, honey."

Typical kid comeback:

  • "That's what you always say."

Smart parent responses:

  • "When you're a mom, you'll be able to make the decisions."
  • "No. Sleepovers only work if you sleep late the next day."

The Late Show

It's a Friday night, and your child has been watching TV for too long when she sees the promo for the next program and begs, "Mom, just one more show and then I'll go to bed."

Why you should refuse: There will always be another show your child wants to watch. If you give in, next time she'll say, "You let me stay up last time." Kids need rules and structure, and it's your job to provide them.

How to say no:

  • "That last show was your extra one."

Typical kid comeback:

  • "But all my friends are staying up to watch it."

Smart parent responses:

  • "I'll record it for you, and you can watch it tomorrow."
  • "You have a big day tomorrow. You won't have as much fun if you're tired."

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The Homework Hassle

You've asked your child to do his homework right after school, but he wants to play outside with his friend instead.

Why you should refuse: You know he gets tired and has a hard time focusing on his work if he doesn't start until after dinner.

How to say no:

  • "No, you'll have to do your homework first."

Typical kid comeback:

  • "Then there won't be any time left before dark -- and I have hardly any work."

Smart parent responses:

  • "If you stop arguing and just do it, you'll have plenty of time to play."
  • "Homework is your job in the family, and it has to come first."

The Younger-Sibling Syndrome

Your older son is allowed to ride his bike to the store or a friend's house, and your younger son wants to do the same things as his older brother.

Why you should refuse: Even if he thinks you're being too strict, you need to focus on his safety first.

How to say no:

  • "No, you're too young."

Typical kid comeback:

  • "It's not fair. You treat me like a baby."

Smart parent responses:

  • "When you're older, you can go by yourself on your bike."
  • "I know you think I'm being unfair, but I'll worry too much."

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The Oversize Birthday Party

Your 5-year-old wants to invite her entire class to her birthday party, including some kids she doesn't even like.

Why you should refuse: Although she may want to get lots of gifts, large parties are overwhelming for most young kids.

How to say no:

  • "Let's talk about who are your closest friends."
  • "How about we invite just the girls?"

Typical kid comeback:

  • "Everybody else invites the whole class."

Smart parent responses:

  • "It's not always a good idea to do what everyone else does."
  • "I can't watch all those children and make sure everyone's having a good time."

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Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the October 2007 issue of Parents magazine.