Saying No (with Kindness)

Saying No (with Kindness)

 NOTE: This is Part 2 of our series on holiday boundary setting. Read Part 1 and Part 3.

“No” is a complete sentence.

Anne Lamott

Setting boundaries around your time, resources, and emotional energy might feel a bit selfish around the holidays. But it’s essential that you do this. Not only is it good for your emotional wellness, it also helps you be more honest, intentional, and giving toward the people in your life.

But how do you actually put this into practice? Ultimately… by saying no.

Just the thought of saying no fills many of us (especially here in the land of Minnesota Nice!) with anxiety and dread:

What will people think?
What if I disappoint them?
What if I hurt their feelings?
What if they never invite me again?
What will I actually say?

If you’re feeling any of this, too, rest assured:

It is possible to set a firm boundary with kindness and generosity. Read on to learn how:

1. Know your priorities.

Before you can set (and maintain) any boundary, you need to know where you stand and what you’ll stand for.

It might help to think about your life in terms of its key areas. Or to reflect on your values and priorities in private (or in therapy).

Next, consider the holiday situations that tend to cause the most stress:

Maybe it’s the social obligations you feel forced into…
Or the unsolicited advice at family gatherings…
Or the requests for more than you’ve got to give…

Chances are: If you examine each of these situations, you’ll find they rub up against one of your unspoken boundaries, threatening (or even violating) one of your priorities.

That’s why they feel stressful.


  • When your neighbor asks you to host/co-host/contribute to a holiday party, it’s at odds with your priority of spending quiet time at home to rest and recharge.
  • When your aunt makes a comment about the food on your plate, it’s at odds with your priority of caring for yourself however feels best to you.
  • When your child asks for a gift that is well beyond your budget, it’s at odds with your priorities of spending wisely and teaching your child values beyond material goods.  


2. Express gratitude.

Once you know you’ll be saying no in some shape or form, it’s helpful to begin by letting the person know you feel grateful.

Sometimes you genuinely appreciate the comment or request. In these cases, expressing gratitude is easy!

But what about when you don’t feel particularly grateful?

While you should never allow yourself to be mistreated, in most cases there is something in the comment or request (or perhaps the intention behind it) you can find to be grateful for.

Name that thing, and you’ll be amazed how smoothly the rest of the words will flow.


  • “Thank you so much for trusting me to help plan this event…”
  • “Auntie, I know you want the best for me, and I appreciate it…”
  • “Wow, I can see why you want that cool toy! Thanks for telling me about it…”


3. Say “No”.

Scary as it may seem, the key to saying no is to come right out and say it.

It feels daunting in the moment, but it’s incredibly freeing to just get it out in the open. And even if they feel disappointed at first, most people truly appreciate a firm answer.

So, take a deep breath, and be as clear as you can.


  • “I’m sorry but I won’t be able to help this time…”
  • “But, I don’t need any advice on what to eat…”
  • “Unfortunately, we can’t buy it this year.”

4. Offer an explanation.

This doesn’t need to be lengthy or elaborate. Just offer a brief and honest reason why you’re saying no.


  • “My schedule is already packed at work, and I’ve promised to spend some down time at home this month so I don’t burn out…”
  • “See, I’m actually really happy with the food I’ve chosen here. I’m hungry, and it looks delicious, so I’m good!”
  • “It just costs more money than we can afford this year. It’s important that we save some of our money for things like…”

5. Be generous.

Once you’ve offered an explanation, the final step in saying no is to end with generosity.

Wish them well, share a suggestion or resource, and maybe even offer your help in the future. (Just make sure it’s an offer you’re willing to follow through with, otherwise you risk saying no all over again)


  • “I hope you have a wonderful time! And I’d love to help plan something for early next spring, when our calendar is more open.”
  • “What I’d really enjoy is hearing more about your trip! Do you have any photos with you?”
  • “If you want to, we can cozy up on the couch and you can show me some other toys you might like? And then maybe we can make some cookies to bring to our neighbors. What do you think?”

Enjoy this post? You might also like:

Holiday Boundary Setting: 3 Areas to Consider
Holiday Eating & Boundaries
How to Help a Loved One: Limits

Ready to connect with a therapist for help with holiday boundary setting?