How To Say 'No' And Stick To It

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

(listen to article read by the author)

yes or no sign

You only have so much time and energy to spend every day. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Every day is filled with requests for your attention. These requests come through conversations, emails, social media, texts and more.

Each request may not take much time, but they all add up. Do you feel you spend too much time on things that aren’t your highest priority? Are you doing tasks that should be someone else’s responsibility? If so, you will become depleted and discouraged.

Taking On Too Much

Taking on too much can creep up slowly as it did for Mary. Mary’s two kids were in elementary school. She volunteered in her kids’ classrooms each week. In one classroom she helped children who were struggling with reading and in the other she led the kids in art projects.

She also was an active member in the school’s PTA. Besides serving as PTA Vice President, she helped at several PTA sponsored events each year. Mary led the annual ice cream social plus volunteered for bingo night, the school auction and the art fair. The other PTA members loved how they could count on Mary to jump in wherever there was a need.

Mary realized she needed to make some changes when her kids started complaining about her being gone so much. Her husband was also voicing concerns about how stressed out she seemed. Although she enjoyed most of the PTA work, she had trouble saying no. She was feeling stretched too thin between her family, work and school obligations.

Where Are You Taking On Too Much?

Can you relate to Mary’s wanting to help everyone and then feeling overextended? From your kids asking for your assistance on things they could handle themselves to the multiple volunteer requests from various organizations, it’s easy to agree to doing too much.

Your feelings provide an indication of where you might be overcommitting. Are there things you are doing that leave you feeling resentful? Do you feel annoyed that you’re doing more than your fair share? Paying attention to your feelings can help you discover where things need to change.

Once you identify where you’d like to cut back, you need to be able to do this. A beginning step is to decline additional requests that don’t fit your priorities and responsibilities.

Nine Creative Ways to Say No

If you’re like many people, you struggle to say “no” to requests. The good news is that the more you practice, the better you will become!

Renee Peterson Trudeau, author of The Mother's Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life describes these nine different ways to say no in her book:

  1. Just No: “Thanks, I’ll have to pass on that.” (Say it, then shut up.)
  2. The Gracious No: “I really appreciate you asking me, but my time is already committed.”
  3. The “I’m Sorry” No: “I wish I could, but it’s just not going to work right now.”
  4. The “It’s Someone Else’s Decision” No: “I promised my coach (therapist, etc.) I wouldn’t take on any more projects right now. I’m working on creating more balance in my life.”
  5. The “My Family is the Reason” No: “Thanks so much for the invite, but that’s the day of my son’s soccer game, and I never miss those.”
  6. The “I Know Someone Else” No: “I just don’t have time right now. Let me recommend someone who may be able to help you.”
  7. The “I’m Already Booked” No: “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I’m afraid I’m already booked that day.”
  8. The “Setting Boundaries” No: “Let me tell you what I can do …” Then limit the commitment to what will be comfortable for you.
  9. The “Not No, But Not Yes” No: “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”
These ideas can work with your kids and other adults. The last phrase, “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.” is especially powerful when your kids make a request that you’re not quite comfortable with granting. It’s far better to give yourself time to think than to agree to something you later regret.

Handling Push Back

When you say no, you can expect push back from others who wanted you to say yes. They might plead with you to change your mind. How can you respond without giving in?

Restate your position by repeating yourself. You might say something like “No, it’s not going to work for me.” You do not need to add further information about why it won’t work. If you start providing reasons behind your answer, you invite a dialog about your decision.

By focusing on your priorities and declining requests that conflict with them, you’ll be on your way to feeling less exhausted and more in control. Improve your life by getting comfortable saying no!

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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