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.”

Reframing the Yes Environment

Many moms and dads have heard of the “Yes” environment before; it’s popular advice for parents of babies and toddlers.  When infants become mobile, we are advised to create an environment for them that is free of “No”s.  We baby proof everything; put small and dangerous objects out of reach, cover up safety hazards, lock the cabinets, install gates, secure furniture to the wall, pad the sharp edges of tables and fireplace mantles, and put any and all valuables and destructive items safely away.  We look for every opportunity to say “No,” to tell our babies that they need to stay away from something or to put something down, and we turn those “No”s into “Yes”es.  This is a Yes Environment.

It is fantastic for our homes, but what about when we’re other places?  We can take the principles of the Yes Environment and apply them to other situations.  Here’s another perspective:

One mom’s 2-year-old son repeatedly throws his toy car on the ground as he rides in the cart at the grocery store, not because he is angry or upset, but simply because he thinks it is great fun.  This mom says, “If I take it away because I need to grocery shop, isn’t that a punishment?”

What she is doing by holding onto the car is creating a yes environment while she shops.   That is the best thing she can do to help her son succeed in not throwing his car.

When she is getting annoyed at constantly stopping to get the car (which is very valid), she can simply pick it up and put it in her bag without a word.  If the toddler notices that she doesn’t give it back to him and he asks about it, she can tell him, “The car keeps falling down, so I’m going to hold it for now.”  She’s not blaming or shaming him by telling him it’s his own fault he doesn’t have the car, or that “this is what happens when you act this way.” Just solving a temporary problem to get the shopping done smoothly.

Creating a yes environment is about setting a child up for success; about removing obstacles to success.  In accompanying his mom through the grocery store, the obstacle to the little boy’s success is the entire combination of: the toy, his age, the setting, his need to experience things (here, the emotional, cognitive, and physical experience of repeatedly throwing the car down), and his complete lack of impulse control. By removing the car from that combination of factors, it’s not that she is “taking the car away”, so much as “eliminating an obstacle.”  She is creating the opportunity for him to be successful.  It’s a yes environment in the grocery cart.

Understanding this principle allows parents to use the yes environment tool in a variety of situations for kids of all ages.   Removing obstacles to success is more effective than expecting children to navigate around obstacles when they are not developmentally capable of doing so.

A mom dashes to meet her preschooler and hold his hand as he nears the street…she’s created a yes environment. (The obstacle is the lack of safe guidance in the street.  He is not capable of making thoughtful decisions about going in the street.)

A teacher rearranges her seating chart to separate talkative students…it’s a yes environment. (The obstacle is the distraction of fun, chatty friends nearby.  They are not capable of controlling their impulse to talk to their friends.)

A dad clears the floor as his daughter launches into a sommersault…yes environment. (The obstacles are, well…the obstacles that are literally in her way.  She’s not capable of maneuvering her body around them.)

A yes environment is a fantastic positive parenting tool at any age because it is proactive.  It tells children, “I’m going to help you be successful with this.”

Today, let’s look for more ways to create yes environments for our kids.  Even if they may not be toddlers anymore and we don’t need to baby proof their physical environment, we can still  remove obstacles to their success.   We can look for ways to turn “No”s into “Yes”es.  We can help our kids be successful until they’re capable of doing it on their own.