I know I may ruffle some feathers by recommending telling your children yes to avoid power struggles. Am I crazy? Maybe. Here’s the deal. Parents often give children “No” as a pat answer without really thinking through the situation, considering the feelings the children, or giving the kids a chance to problem solve. We can avoid major power struggles by changing our answer to “Yes.”
1. Are you saying “No” to rescue your child?
“Can I sleep in a tent in the backyard tonight?” “No, you’ll get scared.” Have you ever had a situation like this? Sometimes we feel like we are rescuing them from a scary situation by saying no. The problem with this situation is that the child is not learning much and the parent becomes the party pooper who won’t allow any fun.
An alternative answer would be something like “How about we try it on a Friday night so that you don’t have to wake up early. Bedtime is at 9:00. If you are asleep by 9:30 you can stay out there. If not, you get to come in and sleep in your room. Chances are if your child gets scared out there, 30 minutes is plenty of time for them to come running. The point is, if you are afraid to let them try something because they will get scared, allow them the chance and they will make the decision to draw towards safety without you forcing them to do it. Power struggle averted!
2. Are you saying “No” because you can’t afford it?
“Can we go to Disney World? My friends got to go, and I want to go!” You know your budget and you know it’s not likely to happen. What do you say? Here are 2 options:
“No, honey, we can’t afford it. Sorry.” This is an honest, straight forward answer, but hard to swallow for a child. The child walks away disappointed and feeling like they can’t do anything to change the situation.
As an alternative, try: “I would love to go to Disney World. It would be an amazing vacation! Here’s the problem. It would cost $3000 for our family to go. Our vacation budget is $500. Any suggestions on how to make it work?”
This scenario doesn’t say yes, but it certainly doesn’t say no. The child has the opportunity to understand why you can’t immediately say yes and is in the position of problem solving. He may say that he will do extra chores to earn the $2500 needed to go. After 5 weeks and only making $25, he may have a new found respect for the value of a dollar and give up the dream. On the other hand, he may surprise you by putting together a 5 year plan and may come up with some entrepreneurial skills!
3. Are you saying “No” because his or her behavior is a problem?
“Mom, can Sam come over to play after school?” The question sparks vivid memories of children running around like wild hogs destroying your home. You may be thinking “I’m never going through that again!” You have an opportunity to allow your child to learn to monitor their behavior and set limits with their friends. This could be a good life skill.
Try this: “Last time Sam came over you made some bad choices and our house was a mess! I’m willing to give you another chance, but here are the rules. If the rules are broken, Sam will be loaded into the car and quickly delivered home. Do you agree to my terms?” I would also include something along the lines of you are responsible for cleaning up the messes that your friends make. Do you still want to have them over?
Are you catching the leverage you have by saying yes? Sure you can have the ice cream, after you eat your meat loaf. You are welcome to play outside with the neighbor kids just as soon as your homework is done. You bet you can watch your favorite show as soon as your room is clean. When your child hears yes, they feel hope. When they hear no, they feel angry!
4. Are you saying “No” because of time constraints?
“Mom, can I play football this year?” You know that he will have to practice after school at least 3 days a week, which conflicts with your work schedule. No sounds like a logical answer. But simply stating no does not give him the chance to use his problem solving skills or to own the situation. One basic principle in successful parenting is allowing your children to own their problems and you own your problems. If you are willing to allow him to solve his problems and come up with solid solutions, he will learn to overcome obstacles in life and will become a more productive adult.
How about this: “Sure you can play football. How are you going to get to practice?” He may already have some ideas. He may choose to ride his bike, catch a ride with a neighbor, or walk. He may realize that the schedule is too much of a problem and decide for himself that it won’t work. The goal is to allow him to figure it out.
Am I saying that you should always say yes and never say no? Absolutely not. There are times for no. However, when you say “No” as a pat answer and your children are hearing it all the time, they will get frustrated and want to challenge you at some point. Children need to learn the consequences for their choices while they are young and the ramifications for those decisions are small. Saying yes, even when you know your child will fail, will allow them to work through feelings of disappointment, frustration, and failure while you are still there to help them through. If they aren’t allowed to make these choices until they are adults, the consequences will be much more severe.