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Skills for Youth

All Skills for Youth

Refusal Skills

Description of the Skill

The purpose of refusal skills is to give youth the ability to say NO to unwanted sexual advances or risky situations. There are several essential components to an effective refusal or NO statement. Youth need to understand the components that make up an effective NO before they observe or practice the skills. Here are the four essential components of an effective NO:
  • Use the word NO. There is no substitute. Everyone understands the meaning of the word NO.

    Effective use: "NO, you can't copy my homework." (direct NO)
    Ineffective use: "I don't know. You really shouldn't copy homework." (weak NO)

  • Give a strong nonverbal NO message. There are many body movements that can support a verbal NO message. For example:

    Hands off gesture: Use hand or arm movements for emphasis.
    Stiff body: Sit or stand stiffly. Stomp away from the other person if you have to.
    Serious expression: Use an "I mean it" face.
    Other body movements: Cross arms and legs for emphasis.
    Fight back: If all else fails, push the person away and protect yourself.

    Effective use: Arms crossed or hand on hips while saying, "NO, you can't copy my homework."
    Ineffective use: Slouching and handing over homework while saying, "You really shouldn't copy my homework, but you can look at it."

  • Use a firm tone of voice to support the NO message. The way you say something often gives a stronger message that the words you use.

    Effective use: Use a firm voice while saying, "NO, you can't copy my homework."
    Ineffective use: Use an unconvincing voice while saying, "I don't know; you really shouldn't copy my homework."

  • Repeat the NO message as much as needed. Eventually, the person will get the message or give up.

    Effective use: I told you once already, "NO, you can't copy my homework."
    Ineffective use: Failing to repeat the message.
Source: Safer Choices, ETR Associates, Santa Cruz, CA, 1998.1

Demonstration of the Skill

Before youth can effectively practice the Refusal Skill, they need to see each of the components of the skill modeled or demonstrated. Here are some suggestions for modeling the skill. Remember young people need to see many positive examples, not just poor examples of the skill.
  • Review each of the components of the refusal skill as it is described above. Ask for volunteers to state and act out examples of an effective and ineffective use of each component.

  • Use a video that demonstrates the refusal skill. Then have students describe how the skill was used and what made it effective. A checklist of components is helpful here.

  • Using a scripted role play, demonstrate the refusal skill with a volunteer from the class or group. Be sure that the role play models each of the four components of a Refusal listed above. Have youth evaluate what they saw and what made the NO effective. Ask them to identify each of the four components. Scripted role plays can be developed by youth or found in already published curricula.


Behavioral Practice of the Skill

Once youth have seen the Refusal Skill modeled several times, they are ready for individual behavioral practice. Here are a few suggestions for behavioral practice.
  • In pairs or small groups of three or four, use scripted role plays to conduct behavioral practice. Youth can make up the role plays or the educator can use ones found in already published curriculum like those described in the Evidence-Based Programs section. For more information about behavioral practice in small groups, see the Educator Skill "Role Play for Behavioral Practice."

  • If the group is small, approach each youth with a different refusal situation and have them practice their refusalin front of the whole group. The group can give each youth feedback on how effectively they used the four components of the Refusal.

  • Give youth a homework assignment, asking them to keep a record for several days of when they say no to different situations in their lives. They should write down notes about the situation and what parts of the Refusal Skill they used and whether the NO was effective or not. Discuss the homework with the group reinforcing their successes and helping them improve their Refusal when it didn't work. NOTE: Be sensitive to youth's confidentiality, allowing individuals to pass if they aren't comfortable sharing.

  • Remember, it is hard to get too much practice when learning a new skill. Some people think it takes about 29 times before a behavior becomes automatic. It is also important to practice in many contexts, especially at home in real life.


To maximize your effectiveness in teaching the Refusal Skill, we suggest you:
  • Circulate among the pairs or small groups and coach individuals as they practice, giving them tips for how to use the four components of the Refusal Skill.

  • Have youth use a checklist that outlines the four components so they can gently coach each other as they practice. (See Sample Observer Checklist.)

  • Start with scripted role plays for practice so youth get used to using the words and non-verbal messages. As youth become comfortable, have them practice without scripts.

  • Debrief after each practice session identifying what went well and provide coaching around the stumbling blocks or barriers.

  • Connect the role plays to real life by making sure the situations and language used are relevant and realistic. Ask youth for feedback and make adjustments accordingly. The more they participate, the more they will learn and be able to apply the skill.

  • Follow-up with the lesson several times over the next few months asking youth how they are using the Refusal Skill, what is working and what needs more practice. Provide additional practice as is necessary.
  • Note: Links on this page with the Portable Document Format icon require Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print them. You can download this free software at:

    1 Funded by the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health, Safer Choices is an HIV, STD and pregnancy prevention curriculum for students in 9th and 10th grades. The curriculum is one part of a larger, multi-component school-based HIV intervention found in a rigorous evaluation to be effective in reducing sexual risk-taking behavior (Coyle, Basen-Engquist, Kirby, etal., under review),

    The Safer Choices program is available from ETR Associates (1-800-321-4407). For more information about the program, contact Karin Coyle, Director of Research, at (831) 438-4060, ext. 140.