Why is “no” often the first word kids master? I’m sure there are developmental reasons, but it’s hard not to think it has something to do with how we parent. So when I heard about Yes Parenting, a term coined by British parenting guru Bea Marshall, I was intrigued.
My interest was piqued more when actress Jennifer Garner posted on Instagram about her annual “Yes Day” with her family, inspired by the children’s book Yes Day! by the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Her three kids come up with a plan (like sleeping in a tent in the backyard or visiting a giant indoor slide), and she follows through (with rules). Garner’s 2018 post has had more than a million views, and now she’s working with Netflix to star in a movie based on the book.
Instead of doing a blowout day like Garner, I decided to start waiting a beat before giving my toddler the big N-O when he asks for things. Yes, we can go for a walk after dinner. Yes, you can water the flowers in your pj’s. Sure, play with your trucks a little longer. These moments have become the sweetest ones in my days.
Whether you do a Yes Day or just try to say yes more often in everyday life, there’s a clear lesson: Kids don’t want so very much. “When I paid attention to what I was saying no to, I realized that my son rarely asks for treats or screen time,” says Kate Blackwelder, a mom of two in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, who is on the “yes” bandwagon. “He mostly wants more of me, and that I can happily give.”
I still have to say no a lot, especially to unsafe requests like my son’s wanting to wear his dad’s giant shoes to the playground. But now that it’s less of a reflex for me, and my toddler is feeling a little more heard, we’re both starting the new year a lot happier.
This story originally appeared in Parents magazine as “Just Say Sure!”