As parents, even with the best intentions, we use the word “no” countless times each day. For a child, this can be disempowering and just downright irritating. Obviously, there are many times when “no” is a completely appropriate response, especially where there are immediate health and safety concerns. But we sometimes get stuck in the “no” rather than looking for more ways to say, “Yes, and…”
By using “yes, and…,” we can:
- Respect the budding autonomy of the child
- Accept the other person as an equal human being
- Reduce triggering defiance or anxiety
- Create moments of collaboration, creativity, and silliness with our children
- Practice a basic principal of leadership: not one of us is as smart as all of us. As soon as children see that a parent relinquishes being the absolute authority or only one who knows what is right, magic happens.
Here are 19 examples of what “yes, and…” can look like in your household.
Child: Why do I have to empty the dishwasher? I hate emptying the dishwasher!
Parent: Yes, and then the poor dishwasher has nothing left to do after it’s emptied! I know what you’re saying. I don’t like cleaning toilets, but I love how it looks when it’s done. How about I help you get started?
It can be completely shocking to our children that we don’t enjoy household chores. By commiserating for a minute, we let them see that there are things in life that are not fun, but we do them anyway. It also keeps them from battling back, because you can’t fight when there isn’t an argument.
2. Offer to switch
Child: School is so boring!! I hate going!!
Parent: Yes, and it is so nice outside I’d rather not go to work today. Want to switch places?
Kids often love to imagine what it will be like to grow up. Give them a chance to fantasize about being you for a change.
3. Give a reason
Child: Going to bed at 8 is the worst! Jane doesn’t have to go to bed until 9!
Parent: Yes, and poor Joey goes to bed at 3pm. Now, that is really the worst! It seems like your body likes going to sleep at 8 pm. You’ll wake up rested for school and soccer tomorrow.
Providing reasons often helps children understand why the rules are in place.
4. Present a solution
Child: Can I go to the party at Mason’s house?
Parent: Yes, and maybe you guys will play laser tag like last time. I will be happy to drive you there as soon as your homework is finished.
Your child knows they haven’t done their homework. By presenting them with a parameter to get what they want, you are giving them an opportunity to either accept it or present a solution of their own.
5. Let “Yes, and…” stand alone
This is technique requires a gentle empathetic tone—no sarcasm allowed.
Child: Homework is the worst! I hate doing it!
Parent (nodding empathetically): Yes. And?
Child: Ugh. It’s due tomorrow.
Parent: Yes. And?
Child: I don’t really understand what is happening in math…
Consider the underlying message—we are often too eager to tell our kids what to do, when all they really want is someone to listen to what they have to say, helping them get to the root of what is bothering them.
6. Set a timer; make it a game
Child: I don’t want to clean my room!
Parent: Yes, and I bet you can’t pick up all of the blue things in the next 2 minutes. Ready? Go!
By refusing to engage in the power struggle and instead turning the task into a game, you are giving your child a chance to comply in a fun, creative way.
7. Don’t be afraid to be silly
Child: I want ice cream for breakfast!
Parent: Yes, and you can try to scoop it out yourself and make a super awesome multi-decker sundae this afternoon as a special treat. Maybe we can even make it try to touch the ceiling!
Your child knows she isn’t going to get ice cream for breakfast, but by taking her request and running with it to the silly extreme, you invite her to journey with you in creativity.
8. Think about why you are saying no
Child: Can we go to the movies?
Parent: Yes, and it will be especially fun to get there early and grab your favorite seat in the front row. How about we wait until Friday night so you don’t have school the next day and you can stay up a little later?
We get so caught up in the “No” that sometimes it simply slips out when we could have actually said yes. Taking a minute before answering will help you naturally say “Yes, and” more often.
9. “Yes, and” don’t always have to be together
Child: One more episode. Please!
Parent: Yes, you can watch one more episode tomorrow after your homework is done. And what do you think is going to happen next?
Sometimes it’s okay for the “And” part to follow the condition of the “Yes.”
10. Set the time for the “Yes”
Child: Can I have a snack [10 minutes before dinner]?
Parent: Yes, a snack sounds great! And you can certainly have one tomorrow after school.
There always seems to be an implied “right now” when a child has a request. Catch your kids off guard by taking away that implication.
11. Ask for time and give a deadline
Child: Can I get a phone?
Parent: Yes, I can see why having a phone would be helpful. And I need some time to think about it. Can we talk more about it tomorrow night?
There is nothing wrong with buying a little time to think through a situation. Just be sure to give yourself a deadline to revisit the topic so you can truly think it through without being bombarded repeatedly by the request.
12. Put the responsibility back on them
Child: Can I get the new video game?
Parent: Yes, I saw that Ninja Fish is out and I know you’d love to play it. And I would love to help you make a plan to earn the money for it.
Empowering your kids to be critical thinkers and take the reigns of responsibility will serve them well in the long run.
13. Redirect the enthusiasm
Child (4-years-old): Can I make lunch on the stove?
Parent: Yes, and wouldn’t it be fun to prepare an entire picnic on the floor for our stuffed animal friends? Let’s do it together in your play kitchen… what do you say?
There is nothing worse than unintentionally squelching children’s enthusiasm for a task than telling them they can’t do it. Use these golden opportunities to teach them how to (safely) perform a task.
14. Work together
Child: Mowing the lawn is awful!
Parent: Yes, and pulling the weeds is even worse. I hear you! How about I start pulling weeds while you start mowing?
Work goes by so much faster when you are with someone else; solitary jobs like lawn mowing or dishwashing are tough for social kids. Instead, take the time to work near each other.
15. Flip the script
Child: I hate broccoli!
Parent: Yes, and imagine how the broccoli feels about you biting its head off!
Sometimes looking at something from a different perspective diffuses the situation enough for silliness to take over.
16. Trade places
Child: Why are you so mean?
Parent: Yes, and I think I’m being a little cranky too. Maybe I should send myself to my room?
Pre-adolescents are especially prone to laughter about the thought of you being on “time out,” and best of all, they will generally leave you alone “until you’re ready to behave.”
17. Give them their own version
Child: I want to play on the phone!
Parent: Yes, and wouldn’t it be fun to play on a really old style rotary phone? Oh, you don’t know what that is… let me tell you about it!
Pretend play is a vital stage of development for children. Rather than simply saying, “No” to them playing on a phone, providing them with a real version of what they are interested in gives them a chance to engage with their environment in a safe way.
18. Show some love—karaoke style
Child: You never let me do anything fun!
Parent: Yes, and it’s all because I love you. (Put your hand in the form of a phone to your ear and start singing, “I just called to say I LOVE YOU!” by Stevie Wonder.)
Expressing love even when your child is not reciprocating is an important factor in giving your child a strong sense of self-confidence. When children are confident that you will love them when they are the least loveable, that confidence will extend to other areas of their life.
19. Let go and live a little
Child: Please can we have some chocolate chip cookies?
Parent: Yes, and grab a couple for me, too, please!
Every once in a while, it’s OK to just say “Yes.” Forget about rephrasing; forget about timelines and parameters. Just say “Yes,” especially when chocolate is involved.