HomeHealth & BehaviorSocial Skills

Ask the Experts

How Can I Teach My Child to Say "No"?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My daughter doesn't like to tell her best friend "no" when he asks her to do something - even if she doesn't want to do it. How can I teach her it is okay to say "no" and express her feelings without fear of losing the friendship?


Developmentally, fourth-graders are becoming more competitive, and they need to improve their communication skills and learn how to determine "safe" choices in their relationships. Fourth-graders often develop new friendships as a part of learning these new relationship skills. Your daughter may have some friends that no longer share her interests and may need to socialize with a different group. Changing friendships may be appropriate.

There is no substitute for actually saying, "No," discovering how the other person responds, and learning how to handle his response. You may improve, or change, some of your friendships. Here are some ideas to try:

  • What does she want to say "no" to? Can she offer an alternative for the activity her friend suggests? Can they take turns deciding how to spend their time together?
  • If saying "no" provokes bullying or unsafe behavior by her friend, have her ask for support from adults at school and from you.
  • Have her practice saying "no" appropriately in other areas of her life, including her relationship with you. If you respond to her "no" in a reasonable way, she'll gain more confidence.
  • Model respectful communication and negotiation skills with her.
  • Find out if her school offers workshops or counseling about friendships and conflict resolution. If not, suggest it.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.