'Yes' may be parents' most powerful, and overlooked, tool

 
 
Updated 12/9/2019 9:36 AM

We may be neglecting one of the most powerful tools in parenting: the word "yes."

Let's say we're shopping with our 5-year-old at the local discount store. Not too surprisingly, he wants everything in sight, especially if it has to do with Lego Batman.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Now, we could waste our breath saying "no" a couple of dozen times. Or, we could try saying "yes."

"Yes, you can have a toy. If you'll calm down and cooperate with me, I'll let you pick something when we're ready to go."

Chances are we will get some peace and quiet, our son will have learned a small lesson in the rewards of patience, and we will both enjoy a positive resolution to an otherwise escalating conflict.

Later that afternoon, our 12-year-old comes to us with a real crisis. Her friends are gathering to binge watch their favorite show this weekend and she has lost her screen privileges until she gets her grades up. She just doesn't know what she's going to do.

Though it is certainly tempting to respond to such a dilemma with a "no" ("you knew there were consequences to not keeping up in class") we might also try a "yes": "let's look at where your grades are at on Friday -- it's only Monday -- and then talk about it." We get to teach our child a lesson or two (keeping her commitments, time management) and also show some reasonable flexibility as a parent. Everybody wins.

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We've no sooner resolved this crisis when our 17-year-old rushes in. His friend, Tom, who was supposed to drive him to practice, has been grounded. His ride is not coming. Can he borrow the car?

Maybe there's a way to say "yes" here, too. We could agree to our son's plan, and then sit down with him and have him lay out his route and discuss the distractions inherent in having a friend in the car.

A short, local, daytime excursion like this might be a good experience for us both in deciding just how responsible he can be.

Last example: as we are standing in the driveway watching our new van slowly drive down the block, our newly responsible teenager at the wheel, we turn to hear our 3-year-old proclaim "I go cross the street." This is obviously time for an immediate and firm "no!"

However, we can even add a "yes" here. Let's say it turns out that our daughter says she wants to visit her best friend, who does happen to live across the street. We could go in and call our neighbors and see if their little girl could come over to play with our child for a while.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I think you get the idea. Every day there will be all sorts of opportunities for using "yes" in our parenting. And we can still set appropriate limits, hold our children responsible, and even discipline them when necessary.

All this, while just saying "yes."

• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaracare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."

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