A few Saturdays ago, my eight year-old daughter—let’s call her Dervish because she whirls—came huffing up to me as I sat with my morning coffee catching up on emails and paperwork that had risen on my desk like an angry blemish.
“Mommy, let’s have a picnic lunch under the dining room table,” she said.
“Why would we do that when we have a table?” I said without even looking up.
“Why not?” said my daughter.
I tore myself away from the screen to look at her. Dervish was flushed with excitement. Even the ends of her hair seemed to be electrified as she bounced from foot to foot, imploring me with her cockeyed smile. I was instantly suffused with the love I always feel, but that is sometimes pushed aside when I try to deal with the details of our lives.
“Sure, let’s do it!” I said, blushing with the impulsiveness of my response. “Let’s have a picnic under the dining room table.”
Dervish’s surprise at my agreement was announced with a joyous yelp and a dash for our kitchen to collect supplies. We ate sandwiches, cookies, and Jello under our table umbrella, safe from the dining room weather. After the feast, we played games and giggled and an hour later I was a much happier woman than I would have been had I remained hunched over my computer.
“Thank you,” I said to my daughter.
“For what, Mommy?” said Dervish. She had already moved on to her princess dolls and my presence was no longer required.
“For taking me on a picnic,” I said.
“Well, you should thank yourself, too,” she said. “You’re the one who said yes.”
For a multitude of reasons, parents usually go to “no” as a first response when their children ask for anything outside the master plan. A typical parental response is: “No, I don’t want you to build a cushion fort in the living room right now; it makes a huge mess.”
I’ve done it—until I realized my stupidity. If a child wants to “build a fort” or engage in any other activity that promises a transient mess—why not let him? He can put the pillows back later; you can do it together. Your little one has an idea and exploring ideas is such an integral ingredient of our kids’ development. How else are they going to figure out what works or how to solve their own problems? A kid needs leeway to learn and “no” is a complete and utter minimalization of what makes him unique and curious.
Often, our own agendas take precedence over our children’s desires. “Mommy, can we go to the park and hunt caterpillars?”
“No! Ugh. I have to get dinner started and I need to be on the computer for a while. Why would you want to hunt creepy-crawlers anyway? You’re not bringing them into this house, that’s for sure.”
The child wants to hunt caterpillars because they have lots of legs and possess the ability to completely change—word to the parent! Chores can wait. She just doesn’t “feel like” taking her daughter to the park because she had her own design for the rest of the afternoon. The thought of squashing her plan is disappointing, unthinkable. But, why should her child feel any differently? Her initiatives are just as strong and meaningful.
Saying “no” comes naturally because we think doing so is without consequences. Safer. We’re wrong. Not only do we limit our children’s personal possibilities, we also compromise many opportunities to bond with them and to show them a different side of ourselves. We are parents, yes, but we are more than two-dimensional and our kids need to see all the cool people we can be with them. P&G has a great idea and has started something called the It All Starts with Yes challenge
. The program encourages parents to say "yes" more often to their children. The It All Starts With Yes Facebook page
provides free customized "Yes Passes" that parents can download and print out. Parents can share photos of their "Yes" activities on the page. There's also a free Discovery Guide that parents can download with great activity ideas to do with their kids. The program encourages parents to say "Yes" more often, leading to more fun, family activities together such as baking, games and arts and crafts.
So, the next time your child asks your permission to do something non life-threatening and fun, the next time he or she asks for your time, please consider going straight to “yes.” I guarantee the experience will be as satisfying and memorable for you as if you had planned the whole thing yourself.