It’s an easy habit to have, saying no to your kids – for another snack, to staying out of danger or feeding the new baby a carrot. But over time, too many no’s to everyday questions makes kids stop listening and poor behavior spike. Do you know the magic number of Yeses you should say to each No, according to child psychology and research? If your kids aren’t listening, learn about why you should say yes to your kids more often and all the magic to follow…
It’s easy to get caught in the cycle of saying ‘No’ and all the iterations of it. Sometimes saying ‘No’ is a way to assert parenting control, to demand instead of request, and a quick way to halt what could be unsafe or dangerous behavior such as when my son cheers on his two-year-old sister to dangle off the top bunk and I have to hightail into the room to catch her.
The problem with saying ‘no’ often is that it loses its effectiveness and you end up sounding like a scratched CD stuck playing the same broken note over – and over – while your kids cherry pick when to listen and when to tune you out.
It’s a bad habit to build, and then try to break when negative responses float around freely with lingo like this:
“No hitting your sister.”
“We’re having dinner in a couple minutes, no snacks.’
“Stop touching that.”
“No rough housing!”
“No running in the house.”
“Don’t jump on the couch.”
“Stop slamming doors!”
At the end of the day when I finally flop down on the couch, all the times I said ‘No’ weigh heavy on my mind. It’s not just the act of saying no, it’s the environment I’m creating in my home and my connections with my children I worry are being affected.
I don’t want my kids to think of me as some sort of happiness snatcher. Parenting is a tug-of-war to find a gentle balance but saying ‘No’ too often feels like being on the losing side, all the time.
WHY AREN’T MY KIDS LISTENING?
When 5 o’clock came around and I was making dinner in the kitchen, almost every evening like clockwork, my three kids would start playing too rough in the playroom. Picture a little league WWF match with two six-year-olds and two-year-old who pretty much thinks she’s an even match for the other two.
I’d call from around the corner to “stop playing so rough” or “no launching off the couch” which basically didn’t do a darn thing.
And after a few thumps from someone somersaulting off the couch followed by wailing as the littlest would get hurt, I’d pop from around the corner like a Jack-in-the-Box and yell “Stop It! or “I said not to play rough!” in a voice much too loud and much too harsh.
It felt like I was standing in front of a wall banging my head against it all day. I couldn’t figure out how to get my kids to listen to me the first time I asked them to do pretty much anything.
The answer became crystal clear when my sister took a therapist’s approach to analyzing my parenting techniques. My sister, who is conveniently a Child Psychologist pointed out the obvious fact when she asked me bluntly, “Well, how many times do you say Yes for every No?”
My eyes must have crossed and I sat silent for a second. Before I could sheepishly respond and because she already knew the answer, she told me about the magic number to get your kids listening.
“For each No you say, research says you need to say Yes, five times.”
The magic is in saying 5 Yeses to every 1 No.
This was the secret sauce to what my home was missing.
I don’t like being a negative nelly and my kids certainly don’t appreciate it when I tell them no all the time. They were turning a deaf ear to my requests because they were constantly told what to do, being corrected and controlled and tuned me out when I tried to issue even more requests.
SAYING ‘YES’ SHIFTS BEHAVIOR IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
It was clear something in our house needed to change and that change had to come from me. 99% of the time if you want your children’s behavior to change, this has to start with the parents and the overall home environment.
I began holding my tongue and when I wanted to say no to my daughter’s outfit choice of wearing a swimsuit over her clothes to school, I said yes. (And then took a lot of pictures.)
When my son wanted to create a farm of rollie pollies and even though anything that’s an insect and wiggles gives me the creeps, I let him. When I said yes, because he had anticipated I’d say no, he let out a loud whoop and skipped across the yard to begin his hunt.
When my two-year-old turned on the hose in the middle of the yard to make a mud pit while I ran inside to use the bathroom, instead of scolding her when I came back out, I let her roll around in it like a little piggie in seventh heaven.
It took some patience and learning how to pause before I responded, but a miraculous change began to happen in our house when I said ‘Yes’ more.
The tantrums and outbursts began subsiding. The back talk and eye rolls were cut in half. My children didn’t choose to ignore my requests from the kitchen about rough housing while I made dinner any longer. They stopped rough housing.
For every ‘No’ I said or request I asked, they were received with more understanding because our home had reached a greater balance of positivity and respect for one another.
Now when I say ‘No’ or ‘Stop,’ I do it because I’m concerned for their safety or need their immediate attention, not because sometimes it’s easier to say ‘No’ than find another solution.
TURNING A ‘NO’ INTO A ‘YES’ OPPORTUNITY
Saying yes doesn’t mean granting big, extravagant, expensive requests. When you’re at Target and they ask for a toy off the shelf, I’m not talking about saying ‘Yes’ to this sort of stuff.
Simple everyday ways of changing your own mindset and shifting the situation to a middle ground will make everyone happier and here are a few examples of how to reword your response.
Child: I’m not ready for bed, I still want to read.
Parent No Answer: No, It’s time for bed. (And bedtime battle ensues)
Parent Yes Answer: We can read for five more minutes and then it’s time to go to bed.
Child: I’m hungry, can I have a snack?
Parent No Answer: No, we’re having dinner in a couple of minutes.
Parent Yes Answer: We’re having dinner in a couple of minutes, but you could have two apple slices or two carrots, what would you like?
Child: Can I go play outside?
Parent No Answer: No, you still have to do your homework.
Parent Yes Answer: Let’s sit down and finish your homework and then you can run outside to play.
Parent No Answer: Stop running in the house!
Parent Yes Answer: Let’s find something to do to get our energy out instead of running in the house. What about playing outside or jumping on the trampoline?
Parent No Answer: Don’t hit your sister!
Parent Yes Answer: I don’t like that you hit your sister. Maybe we need some time apart to do something you like doing without her for a while?
When your kids understand that you’re telling them ‘No’ for an important reason, they’ll perk up and listen. Instead of cherry picking what they think is vital, they’ll know when you say No, they need to follow directions.
Remember the secret sauce to better behavior and a more positive, peaceful home the next time you want to blurt out ‘No.’
The magic is in saying 5 Yeses to every 1 No.
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