There is one important word that we often completely forget to teach our students. Or maybe they know it but we don’t focus on teaching when and why they can use this word. This word is so critically important that if you or I didn’t have this word in our vocabulary we would be literally and figuratively lost in all aspects of our lives. This tiny little word can keep you safe, healthy, and protect you from things that may cause harm. If want to help our students grow into independent adults, we absolutely cannot forget about this word. It’s NO.
In our for our students to self-advocate, they need to learn to say no. They need to learn to refuse things they don’t like or want and ask people to stop something that is making them uncomfortable. If our kids go along with whatever anyone tells them, they will likely get taken advantage of later in life. We want our kids to learn to stand up for themselves and voice their opinions and needs.
First, teach that no is okay.
The first thing you need to teach is that no is okay. Respect the no. If you ask them if they want to come play and they say no – that’s alright. Avoid phrasing things that aren’t optional as a question. Instead of “Do you want to go to lunch?” try “It’s time for lunch.” For going to lunch, there isn’t the option to say no. Take a lot of time practicing this skill. Offer un-preferred items and model for the student to say no. Ask yes no questions (check out this video tutorial on yes/no question teaching). The goal is quantity and diversity for these opportunities. You want to give a lot of different times to practice saying no, in a lot of different ways.
Then, teach boundaries on saying no.
Once your student is readily saying no, you want to put some boundaries on this. Start with teaching a polite way to say no if the student has those skills. I am currently in the depths of trying to teach my toddler to change her snotty “no way” to “no thank you” and it’s no easy feat. But a polite no can function in more settings and is generally more appropriate. You now what to also start to teach that sometimes, even if you say (or think) no, you may still have to do it. This gets tricky really quickly because we get into the whole issue of self-advocacy and the multitude of complicated situations where someone’s no should have been respected and it wasn’t. Try some basic requests like “Do you want to sit by Johnny?” or “Can you help me with this?” and if the student says no, say, “Thank you for saying no, but I need you to do it anyways.”
Also, teach the why behind a no.
So again, we are on a slippery slope because while we want to teach our kids that their no will be respected we are now going back on it and asking them to do something they have said no to. Tread carefully here and don’t push this to quickly. The goal will eventually be to teach our students to discriminate when something is optional or not optional and when someone pushing you to do something you don’t want to do is dangerous. But way before that, start to explain the why behind not accepting a no. If you ask your student to play chess with you and he said no, explain why you’d like him to. Respect the no but give all of the positive consequences that would come with a yes.