How I Teach My Children that NO MEANS NO
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How I Teach My Children that NO MEANS NO

Written by Ashley Fuchs

I’ll never forget the day. It was eight years ago, and I heard peals of laughter coming from the other room. I smiled, knowing the sound of my husband tickling our then three year old daughter. Then I heard something that made my heart stop.

“No! STOP!”

After a brief pause, the laughter continued. Then, it happened again.

“Stop! (gasp) NO!” I froze.

Suddenly, I was no longer the mom of a beautiful little girl with two parents who love and respect her: I was back on a college campus, dealing with the cold hard reality of sexual assault.

I am very lucky that never happened to me. However, being a Women’s Studies major (and frankly, just being a female) has made me very aware of the phenomenon that is sexual violence.

Again, her laughter started after a second. I ran into the room. My daughter’s face was lit up with sweaty laughter, but I was seeing red.

“Stop!” I commanded. She and my husband looked at me in surprise.

I addressed my daughter first. “Susie, I just heard you say ‘no’ and ‘stop.’ Those are serious words. Do you like it when Daddy tickles you?” She nodded. “Do you want him to continue?”

“Yes! I love it,” she said.

“Great – it’s fun to play with him, but if you want him to tickle you, then you need to say ‘more’ first or he won’t continue, OK?” She nodded.

I looked at my husband, “If Susie says ‘stop,’ please stop and do not start again until she says ‘more.’ In this house, ‘no’ and ‘stop’ must always mean just that.”

They both nodded. To his credit, my husband did not roll his eyes or treat me like a crazy, over-protective mother. I walked away, and I could hear her little voice demand “more!” before the laughter continued.

When my son was born and old enough to participate in this game, the rules were explained the exact same way to him. Our kids were stopped time and time again from their rough play if someone didn’t obey that rule.

How I Teach My Children that NO MEANS NO

I do not believe that we should blame victims for being sexually violated, but I do believe that there are things that happen to us in childhood that become a part of our foundation and carry into our subconscious adult lives. If a little girl learns to ask for the exhilarating physical attention she wants by saying “stop” and “no” in childhood, what happens when she is of age to be intimate with someone? When does she learn that no means no, and yes means yes? 

Consequently, if my son learns that saying “stop” and “no” means the game continues, then when does he learn that sometimes “no” means that things are going down a very bad path? As it is, he has grown up with these rules, and he still has a hard time knowing that. We have had to add a firm “game OFF!” for those times when he does not respect a verbal boundary.

I am extra hard on my son, because I know that there are people out there who will not grow up with this lesson. He may have a sexual partner someday who has been raised with this kind of verbal teasing, using “no” and “stop” with a coy voice to mean “I really want you to keep doing that.” He needs to be smarter than that, and insist that they learn to ask for what they want directly, or he could face a shocking world of hurt.

As much as it frightens me to have a daughter who is sexually assaulted, it frightens me just as much to have my son accused of sexual assault because an intimate situation ended badly.

Not only do I think following this rule will help my children lessen their risk for sexual violence, I think it will serve them in all manner of their relationships with others. Tell people what you want. Tell people what you don’t want. Sometimes we don’t know what we want, so say that. Hoping others will read your mind and “just know” is at best annoying, and at worst can lead to personal danger.

Maybe you think I am making too big a deal of this. After all – they are just words, and they are just kids. But every time an act of sexual violence occurs, there is a victim and an assailant– and they both have parents. Let it be said that we did our part to not raise either.


Ashley FuchsAbout the Author: Ashley is an award-winning health activist and blogger, and was named WEGO Health Network’s Rookie of the Year for 2015. She is a hyper-flexible mother of two bouncing (literally) kids. A lack of collagen has left them the world’s worst Superheroes (but don’t tell them that). She writes about the wacky things that their syndrome has taught her family with a dash of wisdom and a shot of vodka at The Incredible Adventures of Malleable Mom. She has been published on Scary Mommy, Mamapedia, and BLUNTmoms. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.


  1. Janine Huldie

    Wonderful advice for the reality of the world we are living in nowadays and thanks for sharing.

  2. Rabia @TheLiebers

    We are working very hard on this in my house as well. Yesterday I heard my daughter tell her brother, ‘I said no! No means no!’ Very loudly while he was bugging her. I was very proud!

  3. Mom Babble

    As soon as I read this submission, I started implementing this tactic in my home, and the change was IMMEDIATE. My kids ASK when they want to be tickled. They say “More!” when they want more. We stop when they say no. We’re still working on implementing it in more areas of our lives, but this is super effective. Thanks to The Malleable Mom for sharing this with our fans!

  4. Ashley Fuchs

    That’s awesome, Rabia! You should be proud! That means that she has been hearing this from you – well done, Mama!

  5. Quirky Chrissy

    This is so unbelievably brilliant. I never thought of the confusion that could come from something so typical in a loving, happy family environment.

  6. Gretchen

    I agree completely. Not only is it important for our kids to respect when someone says “No” or “Stop” but it’s also important for our kids to know that their words carry weight and that they and only they control who touches them and how. So many of us (myself included) grew up thinking that it was more important to be polite than to speak up for ourselves. I think it’s wonderful that you are teaching your children that they are in control and that it’s ok to say “No” clearly and emphatically.

    • The Malleable Mom

      Yes, Gretchen! I have actually had victims of molestation tell me that they didn’t stop their abuser because they didn’t want to be rude! I think it starts here. I would recommend that you go to my blog this weekend and read the amazing guest post I am about to feature from Jill Devine, who wrote about the time her daughter tried to ward off a relative who grabbed her and didn’t respect her saying “Stop it!” She said “I can touch you if I want to! I am your ____!” What kind of $%&*ed up message is that? Now this girl is being told she is impolite if she sets a boundary with this woman. So what’s going to happen if teenage cousin/uncle or even a female relative sexually molests her? Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments!

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  9. Paul

    My wife and I had this exact same situation and she expressed the same concerns. I am here because I am googling around trying to establish whether there is any evidence to support the claim that such ‘language inverted play’ actually causes harm. All I have been able to find is opinion that this is the case? Does anyone know of any supporting science? I think if I raise children who can only identify stop messages through explicit literal language then I have failed.

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