If we are among the men of good will who yearn for peace, we must lay the foundation for peace ourselves, by working for the social world of the child. ~ Maria Montessori, International Montessori Congress, 1937
How many uncomfortable situations have you had that could have been avoided by simply saying no, honestly and respectfully? Setting respectful and appropriate boundaries is social skill that is essential to maintaining healthy relationships. Learning to do so is a process that lasts for a lifetime, and it begins early in children’s development. As we teach grace and courtesy skills, it’s important for children how to say no, respectfully, and how to receive no, respectfully. Of course, as Montessorians, we understand that we need to model these social skills, as well. Let’s start there
Sometimes the most appropriate response is to say no, without explaining yourself. Too often adults launch into long explanations about why they are saying no. This, of course, leads to negotiation and manipulation, when clear and appropriate boundaries are called for. It also models for children that when you say no you must explain yourself. Believe it or not, children are often more skilled at saying no, respectfully, and without explanation than adults are.
Roger was a Lower Elementary teacher. One day, he observed a conversation between two of his students, Lauren and Allison. Lauren approached Allison, and asked, in a syrupy tone, if she could use one of Allison’s new scented pencils. Allison simply looked at Lauren and respectfully said, “No.” That was it, then silence. Lauren looked puzzled. She seemed to be waiting for Allison’s explanation, but Allison didn’t say a word. After a few moments, Lauren shrugged her shoulders and went back to her work. Roger learned a valuable lesson from Allison that day. It’s OK to say no without explaining yourself.
Saying no, respectfully, without explanation, is a critical life skill. In Montessori we teach young children that they are allowed to say no, respectfully, to one another. When one child asks to use a material that another child is using, the child using the material is allowed to say no. We don’t force children to share. This would be disrespectful. Teaching children to say no, respectfully, and without explanation, helps them develop the ability to set clear and appropriate boundaries. Healthy relationships depend on healthy boundaries. Later in life, these same children will be adolescents and will need to say no to requests that could have significant consequences. No is a complete sentence, but learning to say no takes practice.
The other important social and life skill that is taught when we say no, respectfully, without explanation is how to receive a no. Roger wasn’t the only one who learned a lesson from Allison when she said no, without explanation. Lauren learned to receive a no, respectfully; to accept clear and appropriate boundaries from another.
While saying no, respectfully, is an effective way to set limits, it is also easy to fall into the trap of saying no too much. It can become our go-to response. Sometimes we need to focus on saying yes where we can!
Linda and Liz were having a difficult year. This happens to all of us. They started feeling like all they ever said was, “No!” It had become a habitual response, and they found themselves saying no, even when it wasn’t necessary. Linda felt that the atmosphere in the classroom was “heavy” and their relationship with the children was lacking in trust. They decided for the next few weeks to look for opportunities to say yes wherever possible. Liz taped a notecard to the teacher cabinet with the word, “Yes,” written on it. Each time a child asked for something, Linda and Liz took a moment to intentionally consider if they could say yes. As they began saying yes more, they noticed themselves more trusting of the children. The atmosphere in the classroom felt lighter and more relaxed.
While the class was still challenging, the group began to make progress. The children were happier and more cooperative. Liz and Linda went home each day feeling better about themselves and about the children. 
See you next time…
 Nelsen, Jane, and Chip DeLorenzo. Positive Discipline in the Montessori Classroom: Preparing an Environment That Fosters Respect, Kindness and Responsibility. USA, Parent Child Press, 2021, page 152-154.