Having a "Yes Day" with your kids can be fun and beneficial. Here's how to make it happen.

By Erin Schoen Marsh
May 05, 2021
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An image of kids jumping off on a couch.
Credit: Getty Images.

My kids are obsessed with Netflix's popular feel-good movie Yes Day. And with outings limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rising infection rates, we opted for our very own family "Yes Day" as our weekend fun.

Our unanimous takeaway: every family should have a real "Yes Day"—especially since it can be rewarding and beneficial for everyone involved.

Saying yes when appropriate and safe to do so can open us up to new challenges and opportunities, allow for collaboration, empowerment, affirm our individuality, facilitate an environment where it's OK to try and fail, and ultimately make life more fun.

It also transfers some control to kids, which research says is important for parents to do. "Research has found—as far as what leads to happiness in people and not just children—that saying 'yes' gives a sense of control in one's environment, and children often don't have a sense of control," says Kamala London, Ph.D., a developmental psychology professor at The University of Toledo. "Even in very loving homes, kids don't have control—even over something as simple as what they eat."

Why is it necessary for kids to gain some control? "[It allows] them to make decisions and sometimes fail so they can learn what they're good at and try on different hats," says Dr. London. "When we aren't letting kids make choices, they don't find what they are good at, and they lose that self-efficacy piece—one of the best predictors of happiness."

Despite the benefits, the idea of transferring power to your little ones for a day can sound exhausting. Here are a few tips to pull off a "Yes Day" without a hitch.

Set Some Ground Rules

Setting some firm ground rules prior to the event can make the day less daunting and ensure safety. Our children, Dexter, 8, and Camille, 5, are rule followers and overly cautious, so we weren't concerned about their choice of activities, but we still gave them the following guidelines:

  • Nothing dangerous that could result in injury.
  • Nothing farther than a 20-minute drive.
  • Nothing too expensive, and everything bought must benefit the entire family (we set a $100 budget).
  • Nothing that involves the future.

Get Creative

Depending on the ages of your children, they may benefit from a brainstorming session. I told my kids the sky was the limit, throwing out some suggestions that came to mind, and that guidance was enough to get them started.

I provided them with a poster board and velcro stickers from Target, rounded up the markers and stickers in the house, and told them to create the to-do list for the day. A couple hours later, they proudly emerged from the basement with their masterpiece. They listed each activity and then covered them up using the velcro stickers and slivers of construction paper. That allowed them to reveal each exciting venture one-by-one on the official day.

Yes Day poster
Credit: Courtesy of Erin Schoen Marsh

Build Suspense

Pick a date in the future to give your kids something to look forward to. Research shows our emotions are more intense in anticipation of an event rather than retrospection, so use that momentum to create joy. If you have requirements before "Yes Day" can occur—chores, homework, you name it—you can use the day as an incentive to complete the assigned task(s).

Get Excited

Young kids model their behavior from parental figures, and the emotions of caregivers affect their feelings. If you are enthusiastically awaiting "Yes Day," your kids will likely be equally fired up.

Take it All In

Take a break from the parental routine of dictating the day's agenda. Instead, do your best to go with the flow and enjoy the moment. Were we elated with our 6 a.m. Saturday wake-up call? Not particularly, but the early rise allowed us to grab breakfast and start our epic Nerf gun battle by 8 a.m. Saying yes for a day forced us out of our comfort zones, and as a result, we experienced new things and, most importantly, we all had a blast.

The Bottom Line

Get comfortable saying yes to your kids, even if just for a day, and let them be the ones to say no. It's a much-needed break from the responsibility of parenting while giving our kids the tools to make decisions, maintain some control, and work on self-efficacy.