The Power of Saying Yes

As a parent, one can often find oneself repeating the word “no” quite a bit.  Probably more often than one ever imagined one would, if I’m to be perfectly honest.  It seems like every other sentence has to include the word “no” because our kids’ requests are too dangerous, messy, unhealthy, and so on.

No, you can’t feed the goldfish to the cat.

No, you can’t paint the TV.

No, you can’t play with the dried lentils.

No, you can’t spend all weekend playing Minecraft.

And so on.  It doesn’t really matter what age our children are, there are inevitably a lot of “no’s” in our repertoire if we want to try maintain a semblance of sanity to the household.  Oftentimes, the use of no is also to keep our kids safe.  The problem?  We tend to overuse it, often because we’re afraid of what might happen if we say “yes”.  Without meaning to, however, we may be stunting our children’s growth and imagination by being overlimiting.  The question becomes: How do we find the balance between saying “yes” and keeping our kids safe and our houses in order?

One of the easiest tricks to keep in mind is to make sure you use an explanation for your no, never just a “no” or “because I said so”.  (Well, not never as sometimes we just have to say “no” and leave it at that, but most of the time.)  I have found myself, time and again, saying “no” automatically yet when I go to explain why I’m saying no, discover I’m kinda stuck as to why I had such a knee-jerk reaction; my reason suddenly doesn’t sound at all reasonable as I try to say it out loud.  When I get to this stage, I realize it’s time to backtrack and admit that I was wrong and a “yes” (or more often a modified “yes” in which I make something a bit safer/neater/etc.) is given in its place.  The benefit here is not just that I learned how automatic my reaction can be, but my children learn that I’m actually flexible and thinking things through.

The second thing all parents should do is ask themselves, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Sometimes the worst is pretty awful and in these cases when you go to explain, you and your children realize quite quickly that this is not a good idea.  However, sometimes the worst really isn’t so bad.  If your child wants to spend a weekend playing Minecraft, what is the worst that could happen?  The worst happens when they want to spend every weekend playing Minecraft (or some other video game) and ceases to socialize, but one weekend as a treat?  The risk of something really bad happening isn’t all that high.  What if something kind of bad happens?  That’s called “life” and it can be used as a learning experience for our children who get to face the natural consequences of whatever has happened (so make sure you don’t bail them out, though helping them is certainly not out of the question, and in fact encouraged to aid in their socialization).

What we have to remember is that saying “yes” doesn’t inherently mean that the yes is exactly what our children want, but rather can be modified by us or made clear that this is a once-in-a-long-while treat.  If you’re afraid that your child will suddenly expect these treats too frequently, it’s up to you to make it clear it’s a treat ahead of time.  If your child ends up asking for it again and again afterwards, it’s time to sit down and explain to your child that that is a sign that they aren’t ready for those kinds of treats and you won’t be able to do them again if the questions keep up.  All you really need to do is talk to them to make these things doable.

When we’re able to let our kids have some freedoms and make their own choices, we often reap certain benefits that make our lives as parents easier in the short- and long-run.  First, our kids become more tolerant of “no”, especially when you’re able to provide them with an explanation for your “no”.  Kids that understand your reasoning may not always agree, but they at least see you’re not being “unfair” or “unreasonable”.  (Of note, you should also be willing, when possible, to discuss times when they don’t feel it’s fair and hear them out.  They may not understand your reasoning or you may be able to come to a compromise that suits everyone, but that won’t happen if you don’t talk.)  Second, our kids are happier and happier kids are always more easy to deal with.  If you think of your own life, how happy can you be if you’re constantly being told “no”?  It sucks and doesn’t make for a happy or cooperative person.  Third, it helps kids develop.  Feeling in control of your life and choices is critical for our kids as they learn to become more independent.  Learning from mistakes that come from our own choices is essential, meaning our kids get to learn problem solving and responsibility through their “yes” moments as well.  Finally, it helps us as parents relax and learn the value of what’s truly important.  If the only reason we’re saying “no” to something is that it might cause a bit of a mess, then we’re missing the point of childhood.  Childhood is supposed to be filled with mess, mistakes, fun, and learning all mixed together, and these things are nearly impossible to achieve if all we ever do is say “no”.

Take some time this summer to embrace the “yes” and the amazing things that one word can bring.

By Tracy Cassels

July 13, 2015