Please allow me to start this post with a caveat. Our current society is really lacking in our ability to say “no” these days, both to ourselves and to our children. “No, son, I will not buy you a new toy every time we go to the store.” “No, self, I cannot afford to buy that particular car. I need to buy a used one with less features that I have the cash for.”
This post is related to that, but with a twist.
Today, I want to talk about the value of a “yes” when it comes to parenting. When a child asks for something, but it’s not the right time for it, it is much more effective to say, “Yes, as soon as you…” instead of “No, you haven’t…”
For instance, today at lunch, Drama Queen had finished her sandwich and asked for a plain slice of bread. As I handed it to her, Mr. BANG suddenly wanted one as well. As he asked for one, Drama Queen asked for a second, so she could make a filling-less sandwich. It would have been natural to say, “No, Mr. BANG, you haven’t eaten your sandwich yet. And no, Drama Queen, you haven’t eaten your first slice yet.” That would have been natural, but it would have left them with a negative, victim feeling of, “Ugh, Mommy’s going to make me eat all this before I can eat that.”
Instead, I said in a positive tone, “Yes, Mr. BANG, as soon as you finish your sandwich, you may have a slice of plain bread. And yes, Drama Queen, you may have a second slice as soon as you finish your first slice.” It may not seem to make that much of a difference, but it really does in terms of the way the child receives it. When I give that yes statement, they feel empowered. They know that they have the ability to receive what they are wanting; the choice is completely up to them. They know that I’m standing by ready to hand over the desired item as soon as they complete their end of the “bargain.”
I use this “yes” approach in pretty much any situation, always with an upbeat tone of voice. “Yes, I would love to play trains with you after clean up your water color painting.” “Yes, you may buy that toy with your chore money.” (When she’s asking me to buy her a toy.) “Yes, we can read that book after you put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket.” “Yes, you may have a piece of candy after you eat everything on your plate.” “Yes, you can go play outside as soon as you’ve cleaned your room.” “Yes, you may have the toy back as soon as you apologize to your sister.”
At this point I don’t remember if I got this idea through my Montessori education or if I just realized it made a big difference in my child’s response. I started it very early with Drama Queen, I think before Mr. BANG was even born. (They’re 20 months apart.)
Having had many, many experiences with children since my babysitting high school days, I’ve seen many a child throw a fit over being told, “No.” Of course, there are times when a clear “no” is necessarily. If the child is reaching toward a hot stove, or about to encounter some danger, that is a time for a firm “No.” There have certainly been times when I’ve given one of my children a firm “no” and s/he has cried or even thrown a fit, and that’s okay. I’ve hugged them and in their terms, explained the “no” and why it was important. However, I want my “no” to be reserved for those important situations, so the children know to respect it. Sitting here right now, I can’t think of a time when I said, “Yes, as soon as…” and it resulted in tears.
As much as possible, I say “yes”. It keeps the mood light and lets them feel confident that the ball is in their court.
P.S. It works on myself, too: “Yes, self, you can have that slice of decadent chocolate cake smothered in hot fudge when you have the appropriate number of Weight Watchers Points left over at the end of the week.” Ah, now that’s motivation!