Telling a child “no” is one of the greatest gifts a parent can bestow — but it has become much harder for parents to do than it should be. Sadly, when a parent refuses to use the simple word, children suffer in countless ways.

This is a great irony because the very reason many well-educated parents refrain from saying no is to avoid hurt and conflict for their child. Yet these are exactly what they bring to the child when they refuse to say it.

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If you are a parent who falls into this “I really don’t want to say no to my child” camp, I strongly urge you to reconsider your use of this simple word. Telling your child no will bring him extraordinary freedom. When he asks you to do something for him and you say no, he learns to do it for himself. How many 25-year-old men would find dignity if a parent simply said, “No, you can’t live here. You can make it on your own”?

Or consider the eight-year-old who insists on going to bed at 10:30 p.m. Since his mother doesn’t want an argument, she lets him stay up. He wakes up in the morning exhausted, irritable, and unable to learn well at school.

What about the 16-year-old “good girl” who wants to date the high school football star and her parents say, “Sure, have fun,” rather than, “No, this isn’t good for you because you’re too young.” She ends up drinking at parties with him, becomes sexually active, and then has her heart broken after he dumps her. All of this heartache could have been avoided if her parents had the guts to say, “No, you can’t date him.”

Parents deny children the opportunity to find their freedom when they refuse to let them struggle.

When parents begin to understand that the very word “no” actually liberates kids of all ages, then perhaps they will incorporate it into their vocabulary.

John O’Leary wrote the overnight sensation “On Fire” earlier this year. O’Leary set his house on fire at age nine while experimenting with a five-gallon drum of gasoline and a match in his garage. He landed in the hospital for four months with burns over 90 percent of his body — a death sentence for most kids.

The evening of his homecoming, his mother cooked his favorite meal. His five brothers and sisters sat around the table along with his mother and father. He was excited to be back with his family and he salivated over the cheesy goodness on his plate.

But John O’Leary had a problem. He had burned his fingers off and his hands were stumpy knobs at the end of his wrists. How would he manage to get the delicious food to his lips? His sister immediately saw his dilemma and stabbed his food with his fork and brought it to his lips. At that moment, his mother yelled to her, “No, do not feed your brother. He will do it himself.”

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John O’Leary sat at the table for two hours, angry and distraught. He grabbed food with his arms, his plate flipped over, and food went everywhere but in his mouth. His mother, he believed, was cruel beyond belief.

Little did O’Leary realize that the gift his mother gave him by saying “no” in that moment gave him freedom. He learned to eat, to work, to write, and to do whatever he set his mind to, because in hearing his mother say, “No, we won’t,” he learned, “Yes, I can.”

O’Leary described the months that followed that one word as tumultuous and disappointing. I wonder: What if his mother did not have the courage to say no? O’Leary might say that he would be crippled today.

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Parents deny children the opportunity to find their freedom when they refuse to let them struggle. And struggles come for kids on the heels of a parent saying no. The word forces a child to hit a brick wall — and this is how it should be.

None of us can go where we want or live without limits. Yet when we refuse to tell our children, “No, you cannot,” that’s exactly what we teach them. “Yes” is a very easy word to say, but it can be the death knell of an immature teenager.

So good women and men, parent well. Say no, and for the sake of granting freedom to your kids, be tough enough to say no to them often. It makes them feel loved. And the truth is — it’s only hard for you. The conflict, empty silences, or slammed doors in the house after you say it are never signs of bad parenting, but an indication that your child has entered a much-needed struggle to figure out a way toward independence.

Don’t deny your child that.

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids,” which is part of The Strong Parent Project.