Monday nights are chaotic for our family. My daughter has band rehearsal, my son has baseball practice, and, like me, the baby is tired of being in the car for hours. By the time we are all home, we are cranky, and we haven’t even eaten or started homework.
At these moments, my kids are well aware that mom’s fun meter is maxed out and their requests will likely be answered with a resounding no.
“Can we get ice cream on the way home?”
“Can I watch TV before bed?”
“Can I read you one more bedtime story?”
Sometimes saying no is necessary.
Maybe you can relate. As parents, we say no a lot. And for the record, there isn’t anything wrong with that. In many cases, “no” is absolutely necessary!
Here are a few examples of when “no” is totally warranted:
- Requests for unneeded items. (“Just because Jane has a phone doesn’t mean you need one.”)
- A boundary that cannot be budged. (“Unkind words and disrespect are not allowed in this house.”)
- A break to a household rule that keeps the peace and your stress level low. (“You cannot eat junk food before dinner.”)
- A dangerous mission where the consequence outweighs the thrill. (“You cannot use the chainsaw to make a tree fort.”)
You might have other nonnegotiables, too. Often we need to say no to maintain a peaceful household.
But perhaps there are instances where "no" is overused and may even be harmful to our children and their development. Maybe a different response would allow them to take risks or foster their creativity. Let’s look at a few reasons why we say no and some ways to keep the peace without denying our children All. The. Time.
We often use "no" to stop unwanted behavior.
Kids are really good at doing things that displease us. So we use “no” to get our kids to stop engaging in a dangerous or messy or loud activity. This is especially noticeable during the toddler years. In fact, this article says toddlers hear "no" an average of 400 times a day!
When we constantly tell our toddler no, they become desensitized to the word. Then when we really do need to use it (hot stove, busy street, etc.), "no" means nothing to them. If we reserve “no” for those moments when it is absolutely necessary, "no" has power. It lets our kids know we mean business.
Try this: Redirect your kids with positive alternatives such as: “Let’s try gently petting the dog instead of pulling her tail.” Or, “Please wait until I am finished talking on the phone so I can give you my full attention.” Save "no" for the times you really mean it.
We often use "no" out of habit.
When we’re tired and our patience has worn thin, saying “no” out of habit is the smoothest way to get through the day. “No” slides off the tongue so easily and quickly we become a broken record. The "no cycle" looks something like this:
Child: “Can I wear my pajamas to school today?”
Child: “But WHY?”
Parent: “Because I said so.” (Or insert another popular parent phrase here.)
Child: Whines about the injustice and the parent's cruelty; possible tantrum ensues.
Try this: Count how often you say no in a typical day as well as what you are saying no to. In any of these instances, would a different response have been perfectly fine? In the pajama example, could the parent calmly explain that pajamas aren’t proper attire for school? Or could the parent just let the child wear pajamas for one day? It probably won’t hurt anyone (says the mom whose son wore a tuxedo to preschool in honor of his sister’s birthday).
We use "no" because we don't want to deal with the result of "yes."
Adults are buzzkills. Kids see boxes and paints and glue and think, “Supercool spaceship building opportunity!” Parents look at the same things and see mess, mess, and more mess.
Often “no” is our answer when we don’t have the time, energy, or patience to clean up messes or tend to bumps and scrapes. But when we are constantly answering our children’s requests or risky behaviors with “no,” we aren’t giving them the opportunity to make their own choices and learn from the experience.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests helping children learn positive behaviors by “providing children with opportunities to make choices whenever appropriate options exist and then helping them learn to evaluate the potential consequences of their choice.”
Letting your child make a choice between two things (both choices that you can live with) is encouraged! For example, your son wants to ride his bike to his friend’s house, but doesn’t think it’s cool to wear a helmet. Tell him he has two choices: He can wear a helmet and ride to his friend’s house, or he can wait until you are done cleaning the garage, and you will drive him there (so uncool!).
Try this: Think about the end result. If saying yes to something doesn’t go against any of your nonnegotiables, give it a go. Or give reasonable choices and let your kid decide. Learning and building relationships with our kids sometimes comes in the form of messes and laughter.
So what if we said yes more often? Enter the power of a Yes Day!
The idea is that you pick one day in which you say yes (with certain limitations) to your kid. Now, this doesn’t mean that you’ll give them a puppy or a shopping spree. This is simply a day of letting your kiddo call the shots. (Look what happened when Roman's mom said yes—it's such a great story!)
We tried it. It was exhausting. But awesome.
What kinds of things did my kids want to do on Yes Day? Play a game of family kickball. Have ice cream for breakfast. Go for a bike ride. Stay up late and watch movies in a fort we built together. Honestly, most of their requests were fun!
What we might learn is that when we open ourselves up to saying yes a little more often, it is surprising how easy it actually is. And in doing so, our kids might be more responsive, obedient, and accommodating. We might even find out that saying yes can be fun—for the whole family.