Speak Eagle

4 Steps to Teach Your Kids to Say “No” to Protect Themselves from Harm

(to hear me read this post, click on the audio bar above)


It’s 7:15 am. photo-12Too early for a drama rehearsal. But this isn’t drama. This is life.

“Let me hear you say ‘No,'” I direct my kids at the breakfast table.

One says a sheepish, ”No,” while looking down at his cereal. Another giggles, “No?” and looks at me quizzically.

I smile.  “That’s a start!  Now put some power behind it!”

The redhead hollers, “No!”

“Ah- that’s more like it!”

I knew he had it in him. It was his favorite word when he was a toddler.

Back then I had to reprimand him every other minute for yelling “No.”  But today I need my children to find their “No” again, to help them learn that the power of their “No” can protect their hearts and minds from harm.

I’m hearing of elementary kids showing other kids pornography on their I-Pods, of first graders repeatedly touching another classmates’ privates under the desk at school, of some creepy online character named Slender Man who apparently convinced two 12-year olds to stab their friend 19 times.

This is scary, serious stuff and we must teach our children to say “No.” Not a timid, hesitant “Um, I don’t think so,” but a powerful, I-mean-business “No!” accompanied by tough facial expressions and even physical force, when necessary.

I love using drama to teach my kids.  Not only is it fun and engaging, it’s persuasive. Researchers have found that role play is one of the most effective ways to establish groundwork for making good choices. Professionals such as Advocates for Youth use role play to teach assertive “Refusing Skills” (see article here) and The National Education Association and the National Institute on Drug Abuse use role play to train students to say “No” to drugs (see article here).

So, here’s a 4-step process you can use to rehearse the power of “No” with your kids:

  1. Set It

Sit your children down (ages 5-10) and explain that there are a lot of yucky things in the world that can hurt their hearts, minds, and bodies and they need to be able to say “No” to them. Be as explicit as you feel comfortable. You know your kids, their age, stage, personality, and what they can handle.

I gave my children a few examples- that a friend might try to show them an inappropriate picture or video on their IPod, or dare them to type an inappropriate word into a web search. I explained that bad images we see with our eyes are really hard to forget.  I told them someone might try to touch their privates- at school or at a friend’s house. And I explained Slender Man and how some kids believed he was telling them to kill their friend. I expressed how serious it is that they learn to say “No” to things that can hurt their hearts or their bodies.

  1. Rehearse It

Next, tell your children, “We are going practice saying ‘No’ to the people and things that can hurt us.”

One-by-one, rehearse different scenarios with each of your children. Standing up can help your child feel the freedom to move around with the role play, but you can also stay seated if that feels more natural.  Your kids might giggle and get distracted- and that’s to be expected. You can smile with them about how silly it feels to rehearse, but keep bringing them back to the seriousness and the danger of the scenarios.

You, the parent, should be the only one to play the bad guy. Role play is so powerful that we only want our kids practicing the behavior we want to encourage.

Pretend to look at an I-Pod and say, “Ooh, I can’t believe I found this picture of somebody without any clothes on. Wanna see it?” or “No way! This Slender Man guy is so funny! Want to see him?” power of noTrain your child to say, “No!” with volume and strong facial expressions, to push your hand away. Practice role playing with each child in turn, encouraging him or her to say “No” with power.

Now, remind your kids there are people who could try to touch them inappropriately. Explain you aren’t really going to touch them, of course, but you are going to reach your hand toward them. Teach them to yell “No!” with force and push or smack your hand away, even get up and run away.

Experiment with other scenarios. Have your children come up with dangerous situations they imagine or have heard about. Someone offering them cigarettes or drugs, playing with matches, tempting reasons to get in a car with a stranger- all of those scenarios are important for children to rehearse a powerful, “No!”

  1. Conclude It

At the end of your rehearsal, direct all of your children to say a final “No!” at the same time. Praise them for their growth. Then, pray together out loud. Pray for your children to have the courage and strength to say “No” to the things that can hurt them. Encourage your children to pray as well.

  1. Talk About It

Keep communication open. Don’t let this rehearsal be the last time you talk about these issues or the last time you rehearse them. Over the coming days, refer to your practice session. Ask how they are feeling, what they are thinking. Refer to dangerous scenarios in everyday conversation. Ask what they’ve seen, heard, or experienced and remind them they can talk to you anytime. And as you and they hear about situations in your school or community, rehearse the power of their “No” again.

At the end of our practice session, my boys all hit the table, eyes narrow, faces tough, and yell “No!”

I nod. “I think you’ve got it.”

We bow our heads, ask God for the courage to say, “No.”   They get their backpacks and head out the door to the bus stop. I watch them, breathe deeply, pray.

When the time comes for my children, your children, our children to use the power of their “No,” by God’s grace, may they be ready.


(As our kids get older, training them to say “No” to new scenarios might need a little finessing. Check out Glennon Melton’s blog post here about teaching tweens to say “No”.)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.