4 tips for cultivating a “yes environment”

kelly-shealer-and-daughterChildren hear the word “no” about 400 times a day. Being told “no” constantly doesn’t feel good and often times can be frustrating. The more children hear it, the more likely they are to have tantrums and power struggles, and feel disconnected from their parents.

Creating a “yes environment” can help families to feel happier and more connected.

This doesn’t mean you must say “yes” to literally everything, or that the word “no” should be nonexistent. It’s important to keep boundaries and to set the limits that are right for your family. The point of creating a “yes environment” is to save the “no” for the occasional vital situations — safety reasons, things that go against family rules, or times when something truly isn’t possible to do.

Here are 4 tips for cultivating a “yes environment”:

  1. Make sure your “no” is really a no — Sometimes we say “no” to a request before we even really think about it. It’s important to take the time to think before answering children’s requests. For example, Is it really unsafe when my sons are roughhousing? Can I make it safer by removing obstacles from the room and helping them set some ground rules? Or, Do I have the time to do this art project? Am I inclined to say “no” just because I don’t want to deal with the potential mess? There are many times when my children will ask to go the playground, but I simply don’t feel like it and I want to start thinking of every excuse not to go. However, when I try to stay in “yes” mode and give it a try, so often I have more fun than expected. I end up feeling grateful that I chose to have that moment of connection with my children and to say “yes” to adventures and exploration.
  2. Save “no” for when it matters — When we say “no” all the time, the word loses some of its significance and effectiveness. “No” is a strong word. Our children need to know that it really matters. That’s important both in having them listen to and respect people who tell them “no,” as well as in situations where their own “no” needs to be respected by other people. When we save “no” for the situations that really matter, it makes the word more powerful — our children know that we indeed mean it.
  3. yes-1137274_1280“Yes…later” — Sometimes your child will ask to do something that would be a “yes” at a different time, like wanting to go to the playground shortly before you need to pick up an older child from school. Instead of saying, “No, we can’t go now. We don’t have time,” you might say, “Yes, we can go to the park after we get your sister from school.” Reframing your words in a positive way, rather than using negative language, is helpful to children.
  4. Explain the “no” — Imagine your toddler is pulling your hair. Your first inclination may be to say, “No!” After all, it hurts, you’re angry, and you want to make it clear that it’s not OK. A more positive way to handle it would be to remain calm and say instead, “That hurts Mommy,” as you move her hand away from your hair. You’re not using the word “no,” but you’re also not allowing the behavior. Explaining it to her in this way will help her understand why you’re stopping their behavior. It also helps develop empathy and gives young children exposure to more language than just “no.”

Holiday Expectations Denied

Almost first thing on Thanksgiving my expectations for the day were dashed. Our friends who were supposed to come over for Thanksgiving dinner had to cancel because of illness. I was glad they didn’t want to share their germs and totally understood. It didn’t hurt my day so much as change what I thought it would look like. The whole holiday weekend (and maybe my whole life) has gone that way. So I’m thinking about expectations.

My last therapist said that both expectation and worry are stories we’re telling ourselves. Our story is unlikely to play out as we imagine. Her point was that we should just stop making up stories and live in the present moment. I like the idea, but the reality is that often we need to plan ahead, which requires thinking about how things may go and what we’ll need to do or get, where we’ll need to be.

So what happens when we plan ahead and events don’t go as anticipated? Well, on Thanksgiving, instead of cooking our food earlier in the day to ready for our guests, our morning was so long and leisurely it lasted until about four in the afternoon. Mike and Cavanaugh built train tracks from the train table through the living room, around the couch, and back to the train table. I would never have had the patience or attention span for this. Cavanaugh was in utter heaven and Mike got to spend hours of focused time with his son. It was definitely a day to be thankful for.

Part of why the day was good is that I’ve been trying hard to let go of what I think things should look like. Who am I really? Only one of three people in this family. Why should it be my plan, my expectations fulfilled?

It happened again over the weekend when we were getting ready to decorate the Christmas tree. Rather than finding decorations in the garage, Cavanaugh discovered a attery-operated holiday train set we just inherited from a friend. He was so taken with it that he cared about nothing else. I found myself getting frustrated, even mad. I had a whole picture of how the afternoon was supposed to go. We were going to listen to cool Christmas music, hang lights, tell Cavanaugh stories about where the decorations came from. He didn’t care at all.

Luckily, I was able to stop myself from the bad mood I felt coming. I’ve started noticing recently that I feel my body heat up when I’m getting angry. I literally need to cool down. So, I walked outside to repot a plant and left Mike inside to help with the holiday train. When I entered the house, Cavanaugh walked into my arms. The tracks kept popping apart and the train wouldn’t ride the rails. He just looked so disappointed.

I gave him a hug and said we’d go figure it out. We walked into the sunroom and tried one more track maneuver. Rather than throw it out the window, I suggested in my playful parenting voice that we just put the tracks back in the box and let the train run on the floor. We could pretend the whole room was tracks. Mike followed my lead and pretty soon my husband and I listened to Sufjan Stevens Songs for Christmas album as we got ready to decorate the tree. I didn’t even try to make up a story about how it was going to go. I just experienced it as it happened.

I hope to be able to do the same throughout this month, through the cookie decorating parites we’ve been invited to, the tree lighting and caroling, and whatever other holiday events we’ve got on the calendar–but may or may not go to depending on what’s happening in the moment.

How was your Thanksgiving? Did it go as expected. What kinds of plans and hopes do you have for the rest of your holiday season?

Sonya Fehér is a co-leader of the S. Austin chapter of Attachment Parenting International. You can find her at mamaTRUE: parenting as practice.