“Put that down.”
“Stop that—you’ll hurt yourself.”
“Don’t mess with your brother’s hair.”
“No, you can’t.”
“That’s a no-no.”
Any parent worth their salt quickly becomes well versed in saying no. Especially in their younger years, it’s how we keep our kids safe from danger and set up needed boundaries. No’s are inherently necessary to family life.
No…you cannot use your sister’s toothbrush, stay up until you feel like going to bed, or play outside in freezing weather in a t-shirt and shorts.
Yet, for many parents, no can become a default. Without thought, the answer to any request outside the normal routine is no.
No, you cannot go to your friend’s house, stay up past your bedtime to finish that chapter, or have cake for dinner.
I get it—parents become weary of the constant questions and no is easy, comfortable, and…safe. They worry that “giving in” too often will harm their child or lead to self indulgence.
Parenting expert James Dobson says,
“Every child needs to be acquainted with denial of his more extravagant wishes. And there’s a need for parents who have the courage to say no when circumstances warrant. But, this responsibility of holding the line and turning down a child’s petitions can lead us to say 'no' when we really ought to say 'yes.' And it can be habit forming.”
Do you find yourself in an unwanted negative place with your children? While it’s impossible—and not wise, practically speaking, to acquiesce to every request, may I encourage you to say “yes” to your children when you can?
What might saying “yes” more often do for your home?
Create a positive atmosphere. Years ago, a friend told me that when she was growing up, she learned to keep any special outing requests from her mother until the last moment. She knew that even if the initial answer was yes, at some point the privilege would be arbitrarily removed as punishment or because of a bad mood.
She grew to learn that yes didn’t really mean yes or stay yes. While I find that an extreme and unspeakably sad way to parent, her story stuck with me.
How quickly I can veer into denying all special requests because it’s easier and requires so little effort from me!
I have found that saying “yes” on a regular basis helps create an atmosphere of positivity with my children.
There are other ways to say yes, as well. When my children were younger, we instituted what we called “Fun Fridays.” We worked hard on homeschooling Monday through Thursday so that Fridays were open for free reading, special outings, shopping, or simply huddling up together with popcorn to watch a movie. This became something we all looked forward to and became a tacit “yes” that recurred weekly!
Look for your own unique ways to keep “yes” going in your home. Kids thrive on this!
It shows our kids we expect the best from them. When I weigh requests thoughtfully, it shows my child that I am truly hearing him, not simply reacting. When I forgive and don’t hold past offenses against her when she comes to ask me something, it shows her how to treat others. When I treat my child with respect, it shows him how to listen. When I take a moment to discuss what might seem upfront to be a silly or unreasonable request, it models communication.
“No” has more meaning. On the flip side of this, when I do need to say “no,” it has more impact. My kids know (usually—I’m not perfect!) that I’ve thought it through and don’t issue a no “just because.” Please hear what I’m saying--I’m not talking about safety issues like a toddler running into the street here, but things like “Can my friend sleep over?”
I try not to react or answer immediately, but actually weigh it through if no is necessary.
“A parent will sometimes issue an immediate denial to put an end to the matter before the kids get up a head of steam. Also, we say 'no' because we don’t have time to think about the consequences. And because the kids ask for a thousand favors a day, and we find it convenient to refuse them all. But, this knee-jerk negativism is irritating for the child and unduly restrictive to him. He deserves the right to a fair hearing based on the merits of each particular request. Say 'yes' to your child unless there is a very good reason for saying 'no.'” (Dobson)
When I read the above as a young parent, I knew that my natural tendencies leaned toward convenient and controlling. I determined then to say “yes” unless there’s a very good reason not to.
It increases rights and privileges with responsibilities. I see many homeschooling families with extremely responsible older children and teens. They often care for younger children, help with housework and errands, and can put together an entire meal on their own.
How often I see these same responsible kids with restricted privileges, when privileges should actually increase with responsibility! My older kids know that, unless it interferes with a family event or needs special permission like an out-of-town trip, they are free to make plans and then let me know. My 18-year-old does not ask my permission to go out for coffee with a friend. It’s more a ‘here are my plans’ conversation. This was also the path with our other adult children. Saying “yes” regularly taught them what was reasonable and respectful, and they now treat us the same way.
We won’t frustrate our children. While many parents rightfully worry that an overly permissive attitude will lead to a spoiled child, there’s an opposite side to that coin. I’ve found that saying “no” to nearly everything creates an atmosphere of negativity and frustration.
No, a child cannot have everything he wants. But we can teach our children to trust us and realize that we want only their good by our reasonableness and kindness.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
This post originally written in 2014. I still stand behind every word!