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The power (and frustration!) of "No"

I was asked for my thoughts on the notion of never saying "no" to a child at a session I facilitated recently. I responded that I was not a fan of this approach. First off, the word "no" is key to creating boundaries around safety, personal space, engaging in a trauma-informed practice, and can be an act of self-kindness around our readiness to engage in an activity or with the world in general. Additionally, "no" is essential in demonstrating we are not in agreement. This is key for building agency and voice in children and youth - and adults.

I was reminded how some people do not utter the words failure or mistake. As if in denying these words, one will never fail. The troubling part about this is that learning and growing rely on what works and what doesn't work.

In my mid-20s, I was triggered by the word "no" said in a tone which I would interpret as no, what are you stupid? I want to make it clear that the interpretation was all mine. Upon reflection, I realized that I'd been living in a story I created from when I was in grade 3. At this time, I was not chosen to be apart of the Gifted, Talented, and Creative group - the GTC, and I soooooo wanted to be. In response, I made the decision that I could be neither clever nor creative. So I was triggered when someone said "no".

I believe that behavior is purposeful, that we are trying to communicate our needs and values through our behavior and the word "no" can challenge adults' sense of control. This can be unsettling. Here is where the important work of acknowledging what we're unsure of and unsettled by comes in. The word "no" can teach us about others boundaries and our own. It also guides us in knowing that we cannot force others to change.

How does the word "no" strike you? Is it more difficult to hear from a child, partner, or parent? Share your thoughts here or by e-mailing me at

Until next time,



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