My son once told my friend’s husband his homemade soup was terrible. “Disgusting!” he croaked as I cringed and whispered to him to just say, “no, thank you.” However, before you gasp at my headline and conjure up images of my ruffian children, let me explain why I am teaching my kids not to be polite.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about saying, “please and thank you.” What my son did was not okay although justifiably at the time he was only four years old. This is about teaching my kids that even though they are little people, they do not have to be polite and make conversation if they don’t know you. They do not have to hug or kiss their long lost relative. They do not have to stay somewhere out of politeness. They do not have to eat THAT soup although they can’t insult you if they decline. Several years ago I was guilty many times of asking them to do things like this and then I started to see where I was going wrong.

My kids are not my possessions and they are not an extension of me. Forcing kids to touch people when they don’t want to can leave them vulnerable to all kinds of terrible things, even abuse. Teaching kids to be “too polite” meaning putting the adult’s happiness over their own can teach them to be submissive.

“Smile.” “You’re so pretty when you smile.” As a child, I remember being commanded this by strangers. I didn’t feel like smiling but I was never taught that it was okay for me to say no.

My kids have no filter. They can be rude and blurt out whatever comes out of their little mouth. I get that. It’s an art we’re working hard on perfecting. However, allowing them to make their own choices is empowering.

Have you ever heard other parents say that their kid is bossy and then they joke that it’s a leadership skill, well, they’re right! Kids just haven’t learned to balance these feelings and emotions yet. However, if you teach them the art of saying no, it will help them as adults when one day someone does possibly cross that line. Affection should never be forced, it should be genuine. I don’t want my daughter growing up thinking that she has to be polite at the expense of her own self. I want to teach her the power of being free from feeling obligated.

Right now my kids are little and their days of peer pressure are years into the future. I’m still trying to teach them though to go with whatever that little voice is telling them. I’m still trying to let them know that sometimes you have to say no even at the expense of other people’s feelings. I tell both of my kids that if they are uncomfortable at a play date or slumber party– that it’s okay to say that they want to go home. It’s okay to call mom and dad. I tell them repeatedly that no matter what, we will never be bent out of shape.

Have you ever just had a hunch and just known that someone was bad news? Maybe you were right. Maybe you weren’t. However, this feeling dialed you in that something wasn’t quite right. You saw that red flag for a reason. Who wants to confuse or skew that natural radar? Kids shouldn’t feel bad for making their voice heard. We all have feelings of danger. If we confuse or repress those newly developing feelings, a child is going to grow up and lose that instinct which could very well prevent something bad in the future from happening.

My kids are going to learn that it’s okay to use their voice. Not a loud voice per say as my son would start yelling right now if I told him to use his voice–but a voice that can decide certain things for themselves. Whether my kids decide or not to accept a hug is up to them, not me. Whether or not they decide to eat that homemade soup is also a decision that is theirs, not mine.

How to teach my kids that they can say no without being rude is a place we’re slowly getting to. I’m not going to let my son tell you that your food is disgusting without consequences. I will teach him an acceptable way of declining. However, I am not at the same time going to make him eat that soup.

Erica Sutherland

E. Sutherland resides in California with her husband and two children. Along with working full-time and being a mom (which is her favorite job!) she also writes in her spare time. Every essay is inspired by her children.