Positive Parenting: The Case For Saying ‘Yes’
All too often I hear parents remark on how much their preschooler uses the word ‘no.’ “She says ‘no’ to everything!” or “I think the only word he knows is ‘no!’” and in the same breath, parents also remark on how their little one “repeats everything I say – you have to be so careful!”
Interesting, isn’t it, how clear the connection seems in writing but not in practice? Preschoolers say ‘no’ because they hear ‘no.’ At an age in which the transition from the helplessness of being a baby to the stark realization that the self is an independent human separate from mommy is, at best, abrupt, our kids need to hear ‘yes’ more.
It’s time that we, as parents, evaluate why exactly we say ‘no’ as much as we do. Maybe it’s habit. Toddlers and preschoolers have endless energy and seem to get into everything they physically can.
Perhaps we are so used to saying no (“No, honey, you can’t fill the bathtub up with your spaghetti” “No, you can’t wear your swimsuit to school when it’s snowing outside”) that it becomes an automatic response rather than a well-thought reply.
Or maybe our “no’s” have more selfish undertones. After all, filling pots and pans with water then throwing giant play-doh balls into them does not lend itself to the quiet, clean household most of us desire.
Whatever the reason, the truth is that ‘no’ often stifles a child’s ability to make real decisions that affect his or her life. In order to help children become independent adults, we must allow them to (gulp) make both wrong and right decisions, for this is how they learn.
I challenge parents to start saying ‘yes.’ Yes, you can sleep with all 74 of your stuffed animals on your bed. Yes, you can wear your sweatshirt inside out if the tag bothers you. Yes, you can absolutely have carrots with your breakfast and cereal with your dinner.
By not automatically refusing an idea that, to us as adults seems silly or ‘wrong’, we not only empower our children to make their own decisions but also let them know that we support and respect them as people.
One of the best real life examples of a parent saying ‘yes’ is seeing a child at the grocery store wearing his or her Halloween costume when Halloween was months ago. Why not?
Instead of “No, we don’t wear Halloween costumes when it’s not Halloween,” what’s the harm in saying “How did you ever come up with such a creative way to get more use out of the costume I made for you? You’ll probably have grown out of it by next Halloween, so I’m glad you have the chance to wear it again.”?
Of course, there are times when we must say ‘no’, for example when health or safety is an issue. However, most of the time a ‘no’ can become a ‘yes.’ Think of it this way: Instead of sharing with a child what he can’t do, try communicating what he can do:
Instead of saying
- Don’t paint on the wall
- Don’t skateboard in the street
- Don’t throw the ball in the house
- Paints are for paper
- I’m happy to move the cars out of the garage so you can skateboard there
- I’d love to throw the ball with you in the backyard
Giving children real options and letting them choose what best suits their needs in situations like these not only saves us the time and frustration of, say, cleaning paint off the walls, but it also allows children to feel like their opinions matter (and they do matter!).
I suspect that children whose parents respect them as people and allow them to have a say in their life decisions will be more compliant when a parent does say no, because the child will know that your use of ‘no’ is not indiscriminating or meaningless.
Next time, before you say ‘no’ to a request your child has made, ask yourself why. Will it put my child or others in danger? Do I have a substantial reason to say ‘no’? If not, I challenge you to say ‘yes’!
Copyright © Jamie Hurst DeLuna, PhD
Jamie Hurst DeLuna, PhD, is a Developmental Psychologist and researcher who studies parenting and parent-child relationships at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is passionate about transmitting parenting research to real parents to help improve the lives of families and children. After all, parenting research is only as good as the number of families it helps.
Jamie has worked with internationally adopted children and their families, children with attachment difficulties and behavior problems, and families from diverse social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Her research interests include attachment theory, parental sensitivity, and parents’ roles in children’s development of self regulation.
Jamie’s blog, Avant Garde Parenting, offers parents fresh, out-of-the-box idea and tips. She strives to provide parents with real solutions and suggestions to real issues families and children face. She firmly believes that knowledge is power when it comes to parenting – and experience isn’t too shabby, either. You can contact Jamie at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article may be reprinted with the complete author bio and a link back to http://www.lovingyourchild.com
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