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Teaching Refusal Skills For Elementary Age Kids

Teaching children refusal skills is so important, but culturally and historically, children have not been given the right to say no or give input towards what happens to them. As the most vulnerable, yet most precious part of our society, children’s wishes ought to be respected as long as they are safe, healthy, and meeting appropriate expectations. Teaching them how to say no appropriately and in specific situations can save their lives, preserve their innocence and help them develop into healthy, self-respecting adults. It is hard for parents to hear their children say no, especially when it comes to brushing their teeth or finishing their homework, however, we are their testing ground and when we respond appropriately by teaching them when to say no and how to say no, we are giving them the tool they need to develop healthy boundaries and self-protection skills. If we don’t allow our kids to say no, if we don’t teach them how to say no, then how can we blame them when they say yes to trusted friends offering them marijuana or to online predators offering to meet with them to party? Shifting our parenting expectations to allow for negotiation, healthy boundary setting, and respectful disagreement can teach them life skills that will help them succeed as adults. When we raise people-pleasing children who say yes to authority figures without critically evaluating the decisions for themselves, we raise children who cannot make independent, well thought-out decisions for themselves, cannot negotiate to get their needs met, and allow others to take advantage of them.

Refusal skills in elementary school are more sophisticated as they get older. They will be more responsive to social cues and feel more pressure to do things to fit in and be accepted rather than making decisions for themselves. The pressure they feel at home is exponentially higher in settings where peers are present. It is important to talk to them about assertive communication skills and teach them how to say no. It is important to have these conversations early and frequently so they remember that they have the capacity to say no. Fear of saying no often include fear of rejection from peers, being perceived as different, and not being included. These are painful experiences for children, and the power that peers have is something to talk about with your kids when discussing how to say no. Focusing on the delivery of how they say no is another tip to help them keep friends while still standing up for themselves. Help them focus on their facial expressions when saying no or when they are trying to engage in a refusal behavior. Tone and facial expression are critical in social settings and can mean the difference in a refusal interaction. For example, if your child does not want to play a particular game with a peer but is afraid to say no because they will be excluded next time, help your child practice saying something like “I really like playing with you but I don’t want to play that game today. Can we play something different?”. Teaching them and most importantly, letting them practice, is one of the best ways to build and develop refusal skills in elementary school-aged kids.



          They advocate for themselves

         They can say no without raising their voices

          They can regulate their emotions when their needs are not being met

          They are able to say No to peers and say what they want

          They are able to watch their tone of voice

         They are aware of their facial expressions when saying no

         They can say no without becoming angry or aggressive


What you can do:

          Allow them to say no – give them feedback on how they did

          Teach them negotiation skills

          Practice how to say no

          Model saying no and setting boundaries for yourself

          Talk to them about people pleasing and the danger of always making others happy

          Give them practical alternatives on how to say no

         Ask them to tell you how they say no

          Discuss the pros and cons of saying no in specific situations

         Talk about peer pressure and what positive pressure is as opposed to negative peer pressure

          Create a culture of independence and support for making their own choices

Conversation Starters:

          “When you want to say no to a friend, how do you that without hurting their feelings? Do you worry that they will be upset? Is it ok if they are?”

          “Saying no to friends can be hard. Tell me about a time you said no to someone and what happened? How did you feel?”

          “I understand you don’t want to do what I am asking you. When we have a moment, I want you to explain your reasons to me. If it’s safe and healthy and good for you, then it may be a better decision.”

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