Empowering Kids to Feel Safe Saying No

Even the simple act of asking our children for affection can be more about us than about them—Kids need to feel safe holding back.

Sunny studio/Adobe Stock

A beloved friend, we’ll call him Sam, came to visit for the weekend. Sam is an amazing man who has been friends with my husband, Jesse, since birth. He’s generous and funny and one of my favorite conversationalists. He has a grey brillo beard and bristly appearance, and a laugh that is wildly contagious. But even though my six-year-old daughter, Opal, has met him a handful of times, Sam wasn’t a familiar presence to her, and she was tentative.

The day after Sam’s arrival, he said good morning to Opal and grabbed her and kissed her on the head. It was a speedy gesture that obviously stemmed from simple affection—his affection for Jesse and I and, perhaps, his wanting for Opal to be as fond of him as we are. He has a big personality—outspoken, gregarious, the whole package. Opal pulled away and made a grunting sound— I could tell she was a bit shocked.

Sam threw me a look as if to say, Jeez, what’d I do? Then he whispered, “I have known her since she was born.”

Known her, sure. But, aside from his less-than-annual visits, the ‘knowing’ has been from a distance.

Sam said he wanted to…