Always say yes. Or some form of yes.

This response, probably more than any response I've given, has helped and confused more people ;-)

Don't think of "say yes" as a mandate but as a tool to help you toward being your child's partner. Another technique people find useful is to ask themselves "Why not?"

Someone read "Always say yes" at Sandra Dodd's website and wrote to me about it. I've included my response further down.

Original post:

I don't feel bad for saying no. I don't say it much. When I do, I stick to it. I think I'm a dependable person to my kids that way. Yes means Yes, and No means No.Of course there are times when NO is the wrong thing to say. And it would be good to change your mind. Or apologize for the way I said it. Vida, you got angry because your feelings in the matter weren't considered. Of course you realize not to expect your young daughter to show the degree of empathy needed to accept your NO without complaint. And of course children "test" more often to see if you really mean what you say, if you don't normally stand by your decisions. There's a lot of factors at play here.

There's a lot of factors at play here.

If someone sees the situation between parent and child about maintaining control then there are a lot of factors.

When the situation is seen as respect then most of the factors disappear.

When I do, I stick to it.

Even when you're wrong?

I think I'm a dependable person to my kids that way.

I think it sounds rigid.

Trust comes from following through on promises not from following through on whatever happens to come out of our mouths. My daughter -- or any human for that matter -- doesn't trust me less if I say no and change it to yes. But she does trust me less if I say yes and change it to no.

How do I know when to say no

Don't say no. Always say yes. Or some form of yes. See your role as helping her get what she needs rather than negotiating for what's most convenient for you.

Yes can come in all sorts of forms:

  • "Yes, we can do that in 15 minutes when I'm done with this. If you'd like to help, I can be done even sooner."
  • "Yes, you can buy that. Let's think up ways you could save up or earn the money."
  • "Yes, we can do that tomorrow morning because right now I'm about to drop from exhaustion."

How do I know when to say no and when to let them decide.

The question is what's more important? Is your need to put the clothes away more important than a fun time spent playing with them? Think about the memories you're creating for your daughter: a knowledge that the summer clothes were put away in a timely manner or an hour spent pretending with them.

I'd go get the clothes and apologize for being mean and rude to her. Even if she's a grudge holder and doesn't want to play any more, the fact that you apologize will make a difference even if she doesn't show it. It will let her know you recognize that her needs are important and that you didn't treat them that way.

We can view children's needs as inconvenient for us or we can view them as people who need our help doing what they want to do.

As an adult if I want to paint, I get out the paints. If want a Coke from the store, I get in the car and go. If I want to not cook dinner, I can order pizza.

If I had to ask permission to use the paints, or ask my husband to drive me, or ask for money and convince him why it was a good idea to spend it how I wanted to then it would change our relationship knowing that he had the power to grant or deny my request based on his perception of what's important.

It's not that he trusts me to make the decisions he would. It's that he trusts that I understand my own needs.

We can be our kids partner in helping them get what they want in life or we can be the barrier that opens or closes according to our whim.

Our kids won't make the same choices we will. They don't have the same needs we do. If we want them to respect our needs then we need to offer them respect. We need to respect what they say is important, not what we judge to be important.

Our kids are different people and they're not the age we are so their needs are different. It's not our job to train them to need what we need -- they will have adult needs when they are of adult age -- but to model how to respect others needs by respecting theirs.

What's helpful is to recognize that what we think is important doesn't look important at all to kids. We can't make them understand how important it is. We can make them act as though they understand by making them comply with what we want. But that isn't respect. That's control.

If we want them to respect needs they don't understand then we need to respect needs we don't understand. It won't be an equal give and take for years and years but eventually as the cognitive ability to understand someone's needs as separate from their own grows, as they build up a feeling of being respected, kids will offer in return what they're given.

This part is new if you've read the above at Sandra's site.

So, if your child wants to drink the dish soap, you say yes in some form?

Why not? (That's an honest question, BTW.) What would happen if a child did drink dish soap? Do you think a child would drink a lot of dish soap?

But I would warn her that it tastes pretty foul and suggest she try just a little if she really wanted to taste it. Since she knows I'm there to help her through life she trusts what I say and will give it considered thought.

If your child wants to chase the ball out into the street when a car is coming, you say yes?

I would say, let's wait until the cars go by to get your ball. Or physically stop her if she was running. Since she knows I'm there to help her, rather than a roadblock in front of things that look attractive, she'd understand.

If she didn't understand, then she's just too young and I'd explain the best I could. If it was a constant problem I'd arrange for her to play in places other than where her ball could go in the street until she was old enough to get the concept that cars can hurt. It might still happen occasionally but we'd weather it as best we could until she was old enough.

If your child wants to take drugs, you say sure?

I can't answer that because I don't have a daughter who has any desire to try drugs because her life isn't full of doors marked "Forbidden". She's had small glasses of wine but really prefers nonalcoholic drinks just as I did as a kid (and usually do as an adult).

I can't even speculate because I can't imagine what would lead up to such a scenario where she'd ask me. She's absorbed the values we live and those are her own so far (at 14).

Kelly Lovejoy's son tried marijuana. (He wasn't unschooled his whole life, BTW.) I suggested here that if someone wanted her perspective, they could write to her. Someone did, and here's her response:

I read at Joyce's that you might be willing to answer questions about kids trying out drugs. I always wonder about this, because I tried marijuana back then as well and always wondered what I would do about it since I got a kid. I don't think it's a terrible drug, though. It's kind of like alcohol and when I was younger, I thought it wasn't even as damaging as alcohol. More than about these kind of drugs I have wondered about cigarettes. Funny enough; I always thought it would be senseless to forbid it, because then they would even more want to try it! Why didn't I think of applying this thought to everything else? Duh.

If you are willing and not totally annoyed by me, my question would be, how you handled this situation.

Cigarettes? or drugs?

It really doesn't matter. It's the whole forbidden fruit thing. Forbid it, and you can rest assured that they will try it.

I've often said that about reading! "How can I get my son to read?" Forbid it! Ban books in the home! Burn all written materials! Refuse to sound out or spell *any*thing for him! VERY good chance the child will be SEEKING books to read---and in private!

Same with drugs, alcohol, tobacco and sex---and any other sticky thing. Ban it, and you're setting yourself up for failure. *Talk* about it, make it a regular part of your discussions, and be open and honest---and not only will your child not *hide* it, he may not try it at all. Well myabe not the sex part! That's almost guaranteed!

Cameron has never smoked cigarettes. All three of his band-mates and several of his friends smoke.

He got dangerously drunk one night---his 15th birthday. He's never done that again. He'll have an occasional beer or glass of wine with us, but no more bingeing.

He smoked a good bit of pot just after he left school---all his friends were doing it, etc. I've never smoked marijuana. My husband did. We were very up-front and honest about our feelings. Oddly, Ben was more concerned about it than I was. My suggestions were to only smoke GOOD stuff---to know where it came from---no "I bought it on the street corner" stuff. Never buy from strangers. Never smoke out in the open. Never smoke IN my house! Never smoke on front of his little brother. BE SMART about it. Never, ever, ever drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

IF he were high or drunk, please call us and we'll pick him up. NEVER drive!!!!! Never ride with someone who was high/drunk!!! I would drop what I was doing and come get him (and friends)---NO QUESTIONS ASKED!!!

His safety and freedom were at the center of all this. Of utmost importance!!! I didn't want him dead or incapacitated or in jail/prison. NOTHING was worth those options. Nothing!!!

I didn't care why/where/with whom. He could call me day or night. He could also let me know he was staying over at a friend's house if he were too wasted to come home.

One day I was letting him off at a concert. I didn't tell him, "Don't drink or do drugs!"---I said, "If you do, be SMART about it!" He laughed, knowing how many parents would say the former!

Our relationship is VERY open and honest. We talk a LOT about stuff. Nothing is taboo. He's comfortable asking me anything---and I'm comfortable saying exactly how I feel about the topic. That started when he was very young.

About the pot: I asked him to do a little research on it. My father is a psychiatrist and was the "authority" on drug usage in the US when I was a child---flew all over the country advising doctors and such on drug use and all. I knew all the bad things. I suggested that Cameron prove my dad wrong. He knew every website about the benefits of marijuana---AND hemp! We're now big hemp fans! But he did serious research on marijuana and countered most of what my father had told me as a child. He became a member of NORML (I suggested that he not sign anything, however! ).

He doesn't smoke any more. He found it made him feel bad. Well, not as good the *next* day---the initial feeling was still pretty good, he says. But he's not smoking any more---HIS choice, not mine. I'm now convinced it ain't bad shit---I still haven't ever smoked though!

But forbidding it WON'T stop it. Knowledge of it's benefits AND hazards. Open, honest communication. Acceptance of his choice---even if it goes against your views. Oh---and laughter and humor go a long way!

I don't think the goal should be that your child *never* tries drugs/cigarettes/alcohol, but that he's smart about it and gets his questions answered.

I hope this helps. I'm going to post it on UB just because it could be helpful to others too. I'd be happy to answer any more questions you might have---specific or general---or whatever!

~Kelly

If your child wants ice cream for dinner, you say yes?

Yes.

Most parents grew up being forbidden to do the things they thought sounded like fun -- like having ice cream for dinner -- and they're certain that if their parents didn't forbid that them they would have eaten ice cream for dinner every night. And quite often that was a dream, that as soon as they were on their own they'd do all those fun things the parents wouldn't let them do: stay up all night, eat ice cream for dinner, watch TV all day ....

My daughter can have ice cream for dinner. She can have it for breakfast if she wants. She can watch TV all day. She can stay up all night if she wants to.

Maybe a handful of times in 14 years she's had cake or ice cream for breakfast. But since it isn't forbidden and because dessert-type foods aren't singled out as special treats she doesn't desire them over other foods and her diet is pretty standard. Part of living is talking about what foods have more nutrition (in an informational way rather than as a backdoor way of saying eat this/don't eat that.)

She has stayed up all night so all the charm of that wore off long ago.

She went through a period, about a year and a half or two when she was 10ish, where she watched a lot of Cartoon Network. (From what other parents have said, It seems not unusual for that age.) Now she watches a program or two in the evening and every once in a while will watch something during the day. Which is pretty typical for unschooled kids who can watch as much TV as they want. That is as much as she wants to watch.

(Though kids who have had TV controlled often do go through a period of glutting on TV, trying to get in as much as they can to make up for what they feel they've been missing, and to get it all in before -- they fear -- the controls come back. It's pretty similar to the behavior of adults during a gas crisis when gas is limited, or right before a snow storm when people fear they won't be able to get what they want from the store. And when the limitations are gone, people return to getting gas and food when the need it. Same with kids.)

Only friends generally say yes most of the time. We are not supposed to be our children's friend, but their parent who sets limits and boundaries so that they learn they won't always get what they want and they need to behave.

Yup, that's the standard line. And people say horrible things will happen if parents don't set limits. And they'll point to parents who use hands off parenting as an example because their kids are wild and rude.

But there is a difference between being a partner and stepping back out of the way. My daughter knows I'm on her side. She knows I'm there to help her explore the world.

Maybe it's easier to picture as a husband and wife scenario. If I were to step into an area that my husband is an expert in and I were about to do something imminently dangerous, I'd trust that he'd stop me! I don't want to get hurt any more than he wants me to get hurt. But when the danger isn't imminent or I'm not about to ruin something, it's better for me to learn by trying things out to see what happens.

Too many of today's children have never had to earn anything, either through chores or going out and earning money to buy those extras they want. They simply expect to have everything handed to them on a silver platter and that there will never be any negative consequences to anything wrong/bad/illegal that they do.

That's the standard thought. And yet there are oodles of children being raised by parents on the UnschoolingDiscussion list and other lists who are great kids because they know their parents are their partners in exploring life.

 
 
 
Last updated: April 2009