The Surprising Power of No, Yes, and Why

When our kids do something they’re not supposed to, or ask us for something they can’t have, often our reflexive response is a simple, quick, “No!” And our kids’ reflexive response to “no” can be frustration, resentment, or even a meltdown.

But a look at the Bible gives us another way to respond to our kids — one that still enforces boundaries, but helps kids to grow in wisdom even through the “no”.

No, Yes, and Why

In Ephesians 4, Paul writes to guide the church in Ephesus toward mature faith. To that end, he gives them a series of commands — behaviors they shouldn’t do. But he doesn’t stop there — he uses a pattern that goes past just saying no. Here’s one example in verse 28:

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Paul starts with the “no” — “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer” — but then he adds two more important pieces: a “yes” and a “why”. These three parts — no, yes, and why — work together to help grow wisdom by setting a boundary (no), offering a positive alternative (yes), and explaining why the alternative is a better option (why).

Instead of just telling the Ephesians to stop stealing (no), he also tells them what to do instead — “work, doing something useful with their own hands” (yes) — explaining that this is a better option because then they “may have something to share with those in need” (why).

Let’s look at a couple more examples of Paul’s “no, yes, why” in this letter:

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood (no) and speak truthfully to your neighbor (yes), for we are all members of one body (why).” (v.25)

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths (no), but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs (yes), that it may benefit those who listen (why).” (v.29)

Keeping the balance

As we look at these examples of Paul teaching wisdom with “no, yes, why”, it reminds us to focus more on the positive than on the negative. This doesn’t mean we don’t set boundaries or give consequences — Paul still says “don’t do that” — but we give our biggest energy to the yes and the why rather than the no.

So what might this look like? Well, if your child gets frustrated and whacks you, instead of exploding with a “NO, STOP IT, THAT IS NOT OKAY!”, take a second to calm down and try this:

(Deep breath) Honey, it’s not okay to hit people. You can use your words instead to tell me what’s wrong. When you use your words you help me understand how you feel and how I can help you.

Or for a child who drops a coat and backpack on the floor as soon as they come in the door:

Don’t just drop your coat and backpack when you come in. You can hang them on the hook instead — and you can come back in the front door and practice that to help you remember. Then no one will trip over them and you’ll be able to find them easier in the morning.

Or for a child who complains about what’s served for dinner:

Please don’t make fun of or complain about the food at dinner. If you don’t want to eat it, you can politely say “No, thank you.” That way you will be showing respect for the cook who worked hard to prepare the meal.

Learning to respond to children this way can be a great way to defuse those recurring conflicts, set good boundaries, and teach kids some wise alternatives in the process!

Apply It Now:

  • What is a common scenario where you often find yourself saying “No!” to your child?
  • How could you reframe your response to be a “no, yes, why” instead?

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