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Behavior: when to say yes, when to say no

Date: July 26th, 2015
By: Polly Bath

“Can I go out to recess today?”


“Can I sit with my friends?”


“Can I borrow the car?”


Nobody likes hearing no. And sometimes we can actually change a no into a yes. Here’s how:

“Can I go out to recess?”

“Yes, you can go out to recess. But if you leave the school grounds just one time, you’ll have to go back inside.”

“Can I sit with my friends?”

“Yes, of course you can sit with your friends. But remember, if I have to go over and redirect you guys just one time in class, then I’m going to ask you to move.”

“Can I borrow the car?”

“Yes, you may borrow the car. As soon as you have a valid drivers license.”

Those are some examples of when it’s OK for us adults to yes instead of no.

But there are times when we do have to say no. When this is the case, we need to make sure that our no is really heard.

Here are a few more examples I’d like to share with you:

“Can I have more time to do this assignment?”

“No, you can’t have more time to do this assignment. You had the deadlines weeks ago. So you know what? We’ll work on a plan to make it so you can meet the deadlines the next time.”

“Grades are closing. Can I have extra credit?”

“No, you can’t have extra credit. You’ve got to get the work done when it’s assigned. I’m not going to do you any favors by allowing you to try to save yourself in the end. Sorry, but we’re going to have to work a little harder next time. I’ll see what I can do to help you out.”

“Ms. Principal, Ms. Principal, I know I got suspended, but I really, really want to go to the prom. Please? Can you let me go to the prom just this once, please?”

“No, I’m sorry. You know it’s a school policy that if you get suspended right before a major event like the prom, you can’t go. I know this is tragic for you, but if I were to let you go I would not be helping you in your future. I’m really sorry, but the answer has to be no.”

So when I want to teach kids to monitor their own behavior, for example staying in bounds at recess or sitting with their friends and not talking during instruction, then I’ll give them the opportunity to do so.

I do this by giving them that instruction ahead of time, before I say no. Or there are times I can change no to yes, like I did earlier.

But when it comes to major building policies–getting suspended, due dates, or extra credit so they can pass at the last minute–those things are not OK to say yes to.

There is a time when kids have to hear no. If we allow them to negotiate their way out of every major policy, then we’re actually setting them up to fail later on.

Sometimes no is the best way to go.