The Sandwich Technique to Saying “No” to Kids

cold cut turkey sandwich on whole wheat with swiss cheese

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Georgia mother who was arrested for allowing her 10-year old child to get a tattoo in memory of his deceased brother.

Personally, this brings up three questions:

  • How much of this was the mom’s own agenda, since she had a similar tattoo?
  • Is this family continuing to play out some delayed grieving?
  • Does this mother generally have trouble saying “No” to her young son?

I’m don’t want to bash this poor family, because I cannot imagine the kind of pain that is involved with losing a child, but the mother said something during her news interview that really concerns me. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something like, “How could I say no?”

This is a common problem in parenting: Learning to say “no” to our children.

Some of us literally don’t know how, some of us just want to avoid conflict, and some of us are just too dang tired to care anymore.

Whatever the reason, there is a simple and easy solution. I want to introduce to you a little technique called “The Sandwich.”

  • First give a positive response (a slice of bread).
  • Then, give the negative response (the peanut butter and jelly).
  • Finally, end with another positive (another slice of bread).

For example, if one of my children asked for a tattoo, my Sandwich might go something like this:

“I support your desire to honor the memory of your brother in some significant way. I cannot support the idea of doing so with a tattoo at your age. I admire your values – carrying the memory of someone we love is important in a healthy, rich life. Let’s think of a way to honor his memory that we can both support.”

It might take some time to develop a Sandwich reponse to your child’s requests. After all, kids have a real knack for throwing you off your “A” game.

So, if you don’t know how to respond when your toddler asks if they can dye their hair purple, the best thing you can do is buy time. My personal favorite line is, “I hear what you are saying and let me take some time to think about it. I’ll get back to you in 5 minutes.”


There is no harm in buying a little time and sometimes you just need a few minutes to craft the perfect Sandwich in your head.

The Sandwich can be used in all areas of your life, not just parenthood. It’s a great business and relationship tool, too. Practice this simple, yet powerful, technique and see if saying “No” actually becomes a way to double the positive messages you give to your child. That is magic indeed.