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If saying “no” all the time has you feeling like the bad guy in the family, it might be time for a communication makeover. An avalanche of “nos” can dim your connection with your children, but there are ways to make “yes” a more regular part of your interactions—without handing over all the decision-making power to the youngest members of the household.
Former clinical psychologist Alice Boyes wrote about “5 Reasons to be a ‘Yes’ Parent” for Psychology Today:
To encourage creativity. Kids see so much potential for crossover in their imaginations—from “painting” with banana peels to molding tiny clay accessories for their stuffed animals, say yes more to give them the freedom to play creatively.To encourage a child to ask for what they want. Kids will stop asking if they expect a guaranteed “no.” Let them discover the surprise in an unexpected “yes.”Saying “yes” most of the time can help them handle the occasional “no.” Children will trust you more if they understand that your “no” has a good reason behind it.If kids ask for what they want instead of being sneaky, you have an opportunity to intervene. Wouldn’t you rather have a chance to put some newspapers down before their very creative and brilliant art project is underway on the dining room table?Saying “yes” is freeing and inspiring for adults too. Let your child’s wild ideas remind you that you also have creative options in life.
We’re not suggesting you shower your kid with indiscriminate yeses in a way that will send the household spiraling into anarchy, though.
“Saying yes isn’t about letting your child do whatever they like, nor is it about being afraid of saying no,” wrote psychologist Vanessa Kahlon in her book How To Do Parenting With Confidence. In the book, Kahlon shares strategies to create more opportunities for positive interactions with your children.
Strategies for saying “Yes!”
1. Provide choices
Giving your child two or three options helps them feel in control while also guaranteeing an outcome you can say “yes” to. Instead of, “Where do you want to play before we go home?” say, “Do you want to stop at the park by the library or the park with the dino statues on the way home?”
“Create firm boundaries around what you’re willing to agree to, and your answer will always be yes,” Kahlon wrote.
2. Say “Yes, when…”
Your child is asking for screen time, but you don’t want to give in (or it’s just outside your normal range for allowing screen time). See if you can say yes while getting a little kid labor out of them. Try, “Yes, you can have 15 more minutes of screen time after you clean out your backpack and get your clothes and shoes ready for school tomorrow.”
3. Set up success
Think of every time you say yes as training and reinforcement for your child to gravitate toward choices you would support in the future.
“When you provide opportunities for positive choices, your children will be more apt to choose options that you will say yes to,” Kahlon wrote.
4. Choose your battles
If saying no to something small like sleeping in their Halloween costume is going to derail your bedtime routine and lead to tears, ask yourself if it’s worth it.
“What would happen if you said yes to this? Looking at your day as a whole, looking at your family values, looking at your personal parenting philosophy, is this a big or small decision?” Kahlon wrote.
Take every opportunity you can to say “yes” to your child’s requests to play. No we don’t all vibe with LEGO or Barbie drama, but a little one-on-one playtime goes a long way. “Ten minutes a day of focused play time will dramatically improve your relationship with your children, which will undoubtedly increase the number of times you can choose to say yes,” Kahlon wrote.
Say it with confidence
If you find yourself saying no often out of fear—fear of a mess, or disrupting the routine, or getting parenting “wrong” according to what everyone else expects—try on a little confidence boost.
Kahlon said if children sense their parents are insecure or uncertain, they may feel anxious and confused. Confident parenting, on the other hand, makes kids feel safe, loved, and valued.
“When parents are confident, they set a good example for their children by demonstrating the importance of self-assurance and self-esteem. Confident parents are also more likely to establish consistent rules and boundaries, which can help promote structure and stability in the home,” Kahlon said.