The art of saying ‘yes’

or, how not to automatically say ‘no’

Saying yes to our children does not come naturally. We live in a culture of saying ‘no’ to our children automatically.

Did you know that the average toddler hears the word ‘no’ 400 times a day? It’s almost hard to believe, until you start to pay attention to yourself and come to realise how instant the response is, often without actual consideration.

‘No’ is a powerful word.

It has the ability to teach our children to not even ask the question because they learn that the answer is predominantly, ‘no.’ It sets them up for a life time of allowing adults to tell them what to do and how to do it and when. It quietens their inquisitive minds and means that they rely on adults leading the way. It contributes to the process of our children bowing to adults as they are silenced in word and deed from the get go. Learning new things becomes more difficult and according to Dr. Dan Siegel, it teaches our children to shut down emotionally.

Hearing ‘yes’ also has the ability to shape brain formation.

It helps to cultivate curiosity and opens up dialogue to problem solving and flexibility. Saying ‘yes’ deepens adult:child relationships and opens up possibilities in a safe and secure environment. It supports our children’s development in evaluating situations and decision making as well as communal dialogue, negotiations and idea presentation. Saying ‘yes’ to our children is important if we are serious about supporting our children’s natural learning and curiosity.

Pausing before we say ‘no’ is vital.

We don’t want to replace our automatic ‘no’s with an automatic ‘yes’ but we do want to be increasingly thoughtful about how and when we say ‘yes’ and save our ‘no’ for genuine and unavoidable reasons. We need to practice the pause in order to consider the request and we need to contemplate our honest response not our easiest option. We need to remember that we are out children’s partner in learning and facilitate that learning in any way that we possibly can.

Reframing our ‘no’ so that the request is made possible.

It is possible that our circumstance dictate that the request being made is not immediately possible. When children are small it can be a relatively simple requirement e.g. wanting to play with a dirty kitchen pan or a recently cracked egg shell. It only takes a few minutes to wash the item and turn the situation around and make it possible. Sometimes we need to be slightly more inventive as a child wants assistance with a project whilst you are also preparing food. Working out the best solution and coming up with ideas together to make it possible can turn an immediate, no, into a possibility. As children become older, their ideas often become grander and the planning and problem solving habits and techniques that have been used in the past in seemingly small ways become useful skills in planning big ideas.

Here are some catch all phrases that we use in our house instead of ‘no.’

  • Can I think about that?
  • That’s a great idea.
  • Are you able to wait until I have finished this game with <insert sibling name>?
  • Yes
  • What does that involve?
  • Is that possible now or would you rather wait until <insert time>?
  • How can we make that possible?

What we are aiming to do its support our children in their learning, as they grow to develop their own sense of self and saving our ‘no’ for when it is absolutely necessary.

Published by heiditsteel

Teacher turned Unschooler: passionate about autonomous education and supporting our children's natural inclination towards learning through play.

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