The Nicer No

The Nicer No

Dealing with passive rebellion in our children



“Why is the door standing wide open?”

“Is your homework done?”

“Did you remember to take out the trash?”

“Are all your toys put away?”

“Why is your bike still in the driveway?”

“Why did you do that?”

“What did I ask you to do?”


As a parent, do you get “I don’t know” or “I forgot” in response to questions like these?


We’ve all been there, reminding our child once again to go do his chores or finding out why he has not done what we asked.  All we get in response is, “I don’t know” or “I forgot!” Most of the time he is not defiant in his tone, it’s more of a shrug. Sometimes he will even add an “Oops!” or “Oh, sorry!” to the “I forgot.”


What Gives?

Saying I don’t know and I forgot are common ways children passively rebel against our authority. They are not being outwardly defiant, but neither are they obeying.  Passive rebellion in our children can manifest itself in several ways:


  • They forget.

* They pout.

* They whine.

* They ignore.

* They offer excuses: “I didn’t hear you”, “I didn’t know”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember,”

* They joke or act cute to get out of trouble.

* They get started but then don’t complete assigned tasks.


Are any of these behaviors typical of your child?


Two reasons why they do it:

  1.  It works.
  2. Parents reinforce it.

Looking at #1 above – It works because it is through these various behaviors that our children effectively evade instruction and silently negotiate less than 100% obedience. We often don’t even notice.

With #2 above – We reinforce the behavior by ignoring it (thus allowing them to get away with it) or by responding to it with nothing more than a tongue-lashing. We are annoyed or frustrated in the moment but there is no real consequence or follow-up for the behavior. It just doesn’t seem as bad as more obvious forms of rebellion and we are too busy, too distracted, or too inconvenienced to really take it on. Our kids learn pretty quickly we aren’t going to do much about it and, as a result, they are encouraged to continue in sin.


What to do?

First, recognize passive rebellion for what it is: defiance, albeit subtle defiance, to our authority. No matter how it’s communicated in word, action, or inaction, understand that your child is saying no to you and your instruction. It’s a nicer no, but it’s still no.

Second, instruct your child. However your child is exhibiting passive rebellion, help him to see that he is using it to disobey you. I used to say to my boys, “When you do “this” (i.e. forget, whine, ignore, etc.) you are telling me no with your actions.”  They need to understand that it is wrong and why it is wrong.

Third, choose a consequence and follow through.


What consequence should you give passive rebellion? Really, it is going to depend on how it is manifesting itself. Whining may result in the child being denied what he was asking for. I don’t know may require some time sitting to think.  Constantly forgetting may earn a child extra chores once the forgotten chores are completed. There may be a loss of freedom or privilege. Whatever it is, the punishment should fit the crime.


When deciding on a consequence, keep in mind the four criteria identified in Growing Kids God’s Way:

  1. the frequency of the offense
  2. the context of the moment
  3. the age of the child
  4. the overall characterization of the child’s behavior


But more important than the consequence for passive rebellion is your resolve to deal with it. We are quick to deal with active rebellion because it is in our faces. In some ways, we drive our kids to find more subtle ways to rebel because they know we will deal with bold defiance. That’s a good place to be because it means you are making progress and dealing with rebellion when you see it. But to go deeper and reach their hearts, we need to continue to refine our discipline so that we get to the motives of the heart. Taking on passive rebellion will help you to do just that. We need to show the same resolve and correct passive rebellion the first time and every time. Only then will we gain victory over the nicer no we sometimes encounter.



Beth Ann Plumberg has been a Contact Mom since 1995. She and her husband, Chuck, have led parenting classes since 1993. Together they have 4 grown sons, 4 lovely daughters (in love) and 5 adorable grandchildren.
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