Some years ago, before I was a teacher or had children of my own, my sister-in-law passed on a bit of advice that I think of often. She and my eldest brother were raising my nephew and niece in a way I really respected. Their kids were wonderful! They were smart, outgoing, fun, and well-behaved.
She told me she tried to say yes to her children as much as she could. She went on to tell me there are so many times in life where saying no is the only option. It got me thinking. A parent must say no to a child for health or safety reasons, logistics, society rules, financial reasons, etc. There are countless times the answer has to be no. With all the requests and questions parents are faced with, no seems to roll off the tongue so easily.
I continued to wonder about situations when parents might counter their “no reflex” and respond with a yes. Examples might include when you’ve had a long day and your child wants to play a second round, or read another book. Maybe they want to splash in a puddle, but they’re not wearing their rain boots. It could be they want to do something silly, messy, or a little bit risky. No is easy to say, but could the better answer be yes?
Fast forward a decade or so, I’m a teacher now with children of my own. Her advice is a mantra of mine. While no is quick and easy, yes is preferred when possible. My reasoning is this, no is negative, restrictive, and addictive. Yes is affirming, opens possibilities to conversations about future decision making, and setting limits. It allows for all sorts of learning opportunities about when, what, who, how, and why. Yes even feels better.
While good parenting requires saying no and sticking with it, it’s easy to fall into the “no trap.” The next time your child asks, “Mom or Dad may I …,” pause and resist your knee jerk reaction to respond immediately. It’s okay to say, let me think about that, and maybe you can respond with a yes, but.
Marisa Downs is a preschool teacher with New Morning School in Plymouth, MI. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.