When It’s Good for Kids to Say No!

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Dads often joke about what some young lad will have to do to get past dad to the daughter. But it’s no laughing matter. Most dads with daughters, having lived through adolescence themselves, are irrationally suspicious or even downright fearful of their daughters hooking up with assertive or aggressive testosterone-saturated adolescent boys.

While I shared this typical fatherly suspicion, I was highly motivated to teach my daughter skills for recognizing manipulation and standing up for herself, to prepare her to make wise relational choices on her own. So I decided early on to prepare Bethany to stand strong when confronted by aggressive efforts to get her to say “yes.”

At an early age I began to playfully train Bethany by trying to coax her into giving me a kiss. “Bethany, if you love me, you’ll give me a kiss!” I then taught her to look me in the eye and say with gusto and a grin, “Daddy, that’s not the way it works!” I wanted her to experience that she could love me without giving in to my selfish demands.

I played this game with both Bethany and our two sons over the years, in different ways. “If you love me, you’ll cook my dinner,” or “If you love me, you’ll come shopping with me.” We talked frequently about how to decide if another person’s stated need was manipulative or legitimate. Over time the kids learned that they can love and serve people without being manipulated. As young adults they have both strong and respectful relational boundaries.

Whatever age your kids are, if you want them to develop healthy boundaries, start having these conversations.

Apply It Now:

  • Talk with your kids about how unconditional love works — If it’s truly love, how I act or respond doesn’t change it.
  • Give your kids opportunities to practice enforcing healthy boundaries by resisting your playful attempts to manipulate them.
  • Role-play situations in which your children feel uncomfortable pressure from people, and how to respond: “I don’t love your broccoli, Gramma, but I love you.” “Aunt Agnes, I don’t want to kiss you now, but I could give you a hug.” “I don’t want to play this game now, but maybe later we could find a different one.”

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