In last month’s Informed Parent article, we discussed how to say “no” so that children respond. While all children need to be told “no” occasionally, saying “yes” gets results faster and with less stress for both parents and children.
Saying “yes” does not mean giving children their own way. It does not mean there are no family boundaries or standards. It means finding positive ways of redirecting children so that instead of telling them that they cannot do something, you are giving them positive choices, any of which you can say “yes” to. Just like other effective parenting strategies that are discussed in The Informed Parent, the power of saying “yes” takes consideration and practice. Parents may offhandedly tell a child “no”, then need to repeat the demand several times before the child complies. It is just as easy to say “yes” without thinking, and later recognize that you didn’t really mean it.
Recently I was in the market. A mother stood by her two young sons as they surveyed the candy and gum at the checkout counter. She was reading a magazine from the rack. One of the little boys said, “Can I put this in the basket?” He held a pack of gum and two candy bars. “Okay,” said the mother without looking up from her magazine.
When the cashier got to the candy and gum the mother said, “I didn’t pick those up. We’re not getting those.”
“But you said we could,” said her son. Because she wasn’t paying attention, the mother said “yes” to something that she didn’t mean. The result was a brief argument that left the mother frustrated and the child in tears.
There are some strategies to saying “yes” that, when followed, leaves everyone feeling good about a situation.
Don’t agree to something unless you know what you are saying “yes” to. Be aware of the situation. Take in as much information as you can before answering affirmatively.
Make sure you understand what you are saying “yes” to. Adolescents, especially, can word things in such a way that you unwittingly say “yes” to something that you do not agree with. For example, your teenager might say, “Mom, a bunch of us are going over to Sara’s after school. Can I go?”
Believing that your daughter is going to Sara’s and staying there, you say “yes”. When she is not home at the designated time, you call Sara’s house only to find that she is not there. You become worried and upset. When you confront your daughter, she says, “We did go to Sara’s house. Then we went over to Sam’s and took a walk.”
Through clarification, parents understand all of what they are agreeing to. In this example, clarification could be saying, “Are you planning to stay at Sara’s house or do you also have other plans?”
When your child makes a request that you cannot agree to, offer acceptable alternatives. While some children will refuse all alternatives, stubbornly hanging on to their original request, most will choose one of your offers. The situation at the checkout counter described above could have ended positively if the mother had said, “I was not paying attention when you put the gum and candy bars with our groceries. I’m sorry that I mislead you. You may choose either the gum or one candy bar. Which would you like?” If the child refused the options, the mom could have said, “You may choose the gum or one candy bar, or you may put them both back. It’s up to you.”
Sometimes a parent says “yes“ to a request from her child and then changes her mind, and says “no”. If the child whines or cajoles, the parent either gets into a discussion about the request or caves in and says “yes” with an attitude that indicates she is not happy about her decision.
Before saying “yes” to a child’s request, take a minute to think the situation through. If your answer is “yes” be willing to take the consequences of that. If it is “no” do not let yourself be swayed or pulled into an argument.
It is easier to say “yes” than to say “no”. Children want to hear a positive response to their requests. When children hear “no” too frequently, they find ways to get what they want that may not be acceptable or appropriate.
By paying attention, clarifying, offering choices, and saying what you mean, you will find yourself saying “yes” more frequently and with greater enthusiasm. This positive atmosphere results in children who are content. Contented children make fewer demands. The requests that they make will usually fall within the boundaries of what is acceptable in your family.