Teaching Children Refusal Skills

By Leah Davies, M.Ed.

Children who are taught refusal skills are more likely to make positive choices and refrain from engaging in high-risk behaviors. Helping children set limits for themselves and say "no" to outside pressures increases their self-confidence. When children learn to stop and consider the consequences before responding to a request, as well as a variety of ways to say "no," they become more accomplished at refusing to participate in anything that could harm themselves or others.

  1. Ask the students to name choices they make daily. List their comments on the board. Some examples are:
    • Eat good food or junk food.
    • Be friendly or ignore others.
    • Follow the rules or disobey them.
    • Finish schoolwork or quit before it is done.
    • Be truthful or lie.
    • Listen to the teacher or talk while he/she is talking.

  2. Have the children recall a time when a fellow student asked them to do something they really didn't want to do, or something that would cause a problem for them or someone else. Some examples are:
    • Tease or bully others
    • Smoke a cigarette
    • Smell household products
    • Steal
    • Cheat
    • Drink beer
    • Disobey parental or school rules
    • Do dangerous things on their bike or skateboard
    • Lie

  3. Tell the children that one way to keep themselves safe and out of trouble is to learn refusal skills. Explain that if they feel uncomfortable about a request they need to stop, think, and consider what might happen if they did what the other person asked.

  4. Demonstrate being assertive if someone wants them to do something that would cause a problem. For example, if someone wanted to fight, a child could stand up straight, look the other person in the eye, put his or her hands on their hips and say in a firm voice, "I'm not going to fight with you!" Have the children all stand and practice this. Comment that using this demeanor may help in some situations, and that there are other ways a child may refuse, such as:
    • Say "No" or "No, thanks," over and over if necessary.
      • "No, you can't have my lunch money because it's all I have."
      • "No thanks, I don't smoke."
    • Call it what it is.
      • "That's cheating (stealing, bullying, using drugs, not following the rules, etc.) and I don't do that."
    • Talk about something else.
      • "That was a great game!"
      • "Have you finished your project?"
      • "What's going on over there?"
    • Ask questions.
      • "What are you asking me to do?"
      • "Why would you want to do that?"
      • "What is your problem?"
    • Give reasons.
      • "I don't want to get into trouble."
      • "I think differently than you."
      • "If I did that I would feel bad about it."
    • Use humor or sarcasm.
      • "You have to be kidding; that beer can hurt the inside of my body."
      • "Sure, that's all I need to do; then I'd be grounded for weeks!"
    • Suggest doing something else.
      • "Let's ride bikes."
      • "Let's play a game."
      • "Let's ask John to play ball."
    • If you want their friendship, keep the door open.
      • "If you decide to do something safer, let me know."
      • "I'll be at home if you want to play video games."

  5. Teach the children that when all else fails to ignore the other child or children and walk away.

  6. Role Plays
    When using role plays with young children, the teacher or school counselor needs to be the one promoting the negative behavior. Make sure the children understand that you are pretending and would never want a child to do what you are asking. Choose two assertive children to come up front.

    Role Play 1

    • Teacher (giving background to students): "This is pretend. I do not want you to smoke cigarettes. You two are friends and I am a child, too. I invited you over to play, but at the last minute my mom had to go to the store. I will offer you a cigarette, but I don't want you to take it. Be thinking about what you will say or do. Okay?"

      Teacher (in character) :
      "Hey, I'm glad you both could come over. Mom's gone to the store. I found some of her cigarettes. Let's smoke them! She'll never know. Watch me (pretend to light up a cigarette and smoke it.) Here, have one?"

      If the child says, "No!" then ask, "Why?"

      Responses could be . . .

      "Smoking can hurt my body,"
      "Tobacco is a drug."

      If a child says, "Okay" say to the class: "Is that a good choice?"

      They will usually say "no." If they say "yes," ask an individual child you think will answer correctly to come to the front and respond. Call the children who refused the cigarette "smart," and have everyone clap for them.

    Role Play 2

    • Teacher (giving background to students): "What if a friend wanted you to take money out of the teacher's desk? Stealing is not only against the school rules, it's also against the law. I need a helper. (Choose a child.) We are friends, and we are in the classroom alone while the other children and teacher are out on the playground."

      Teacher (in character): "Hey, did you see Mrs. Jones put money in her desk? I was watching and she forgot to lock it. You take it and we'll split it. She'll never know who did it."

      Encourage the child to say something like?

      "Stealing is big trouble."
      "I don't steal."
      "If I did that I'd feel bad inside."

      Call the decision "smart," and have everyone clap.

    Role Play 3

    • Teacher (giving background to students): "What if a new child in the class had wrinkled, old looking clothes?" (Choose a child.)

      Teacher (in character as a classmate): "Did you see how messy the new kid looks? Let's not play with her."

      Hopefully the child will refuse to go along with the friend and say something like?

      "She looks nice to me and I'm going to play with her. It's not right to leave kids out because they don't have nice clothes."

      Compliment her for being "kind" and have everyone clap.

    Invite the children to create other role plays involving choices such as: saying "no" to alcohol, fighting, cheating, teasing, gossiping, etc. Having the children participate in role plays not only provides them with practice making positive choices, but they receive approval through applause from their peers for choosing to do what's right for them and their classmates.

NOTE: See the C.A.R.E.S. (Character And Resiliency Education Skills) Program that features children demonstrating these skills at www.kellybear.com.

Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website [www.kellybear.com]. 4/02

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