Turn No! Into Yes…


  • No, you may NOT watch another TV show…
  • No, you may not touch that; you are too young…
  • No, you may not go to Johnnie’s house…
  • No, because I just don’t want you to…
  • No, you may not have something to eat 30 minutes before dinner…
  • No, no, no (can you picture the finger wagging here?)…

Do you ever feel like all you do all day is say “No” to your children? Did you ever wonder what all of that negative “No you can’t do it” does to your children’s sense of self and self-worth? The short answer is, more than you may think.

“No” is one of the quickest ways to stifle your child’s budding sense of independence and self-fortitude. I know that none of you wants to do that, so here’s an easy way to change the negative into a positive and say “Yes…”, without giving complete control of the house over to the kids.

Your job as a parent is to say “Yes” as often as you can and to as many things as you can. Do I mean say “yes” to everything and turn your children into pampered, indulged children? Of course not! While it is your job to say yes, it is your child’s job to convince you, by showing you, that you can say yes to his/her request. This balance is what helps set up a healthy, mutually respectful relationship, where children are given an opportunity to prove that they are “growing into” responsible adults. It will also help parents navigate the balance between giving too much, too soon or withholding too much for too long.

It looks like this: The child would like a “privilege” and you as the parent help them decide what responsibilities they must prove they can handle BEFORE they are allowed to have the privilege.

Here’s an example:

Privilege: Eating Out (at a restaurant, or a friend’s house, etc …)

  • Remember table manners
  • Eat what you order
  • Sit still in your seat
  • Engage in conversation
  • Make eye contact
  • Use “please” and “thank you”
  • Maintain a respectful tone of voice

I recommend that when you have identified what the privilege is, you sit down with your children and together make up the list of responsibilities. They will be more inclined to go along with it. Now you might be wondering how long they are required to maintain these newfound skills in order to gain this new privilege—once, for a week, for a year? Really, it’s up to you, but here’s what I suggest: One week for children five and under; 15 to 20 days for children ages five through fifteen; one month for children over age 15. This time frame will provide a way for your children to turn those responsibilities into habits.

The Privileges and Responsibilities strategy is one my favorites, as I have used it over and over with all of my children, from the time that they were very young to the time that the privilege was driving the car. I also like it because it is an easy way to get away from saying “No” all of the time, and instead say, “Yes… show me.”

For more information on Privileges and Responsibilities, see Ch. 8 of the Parenting On Track™ Program.

6 thoughts on “Turn No! Into Yes…

  1. I just attended a parenting forum that was speaking about how children need to hear the word “No” more often, because in today’s world, we have a tendancy to overindulge our children with too much of everything. But I also find it challenging to constantly use the word “No” and prefer to find ways to communicate the same message in more kid-friendly language. It does require considerable thought and patience though. This is an area that I am constantly working on improving.

  2. Hi,
    This may not be the place to write about this, but I am pulling my hair out today.

    I wrote a few months ago about my 2 1/2 year old not taking naps and a baby on the way. Well, baby is now 4 months and toddler still often skips her nap; she can have quiet time in her room (for one hour) if she decides not to sleep. The last few days, she has been banging her feet on the wall/door and waking the little guy (along w/ me…trying to take a quickie nap). I am so mad right now…seems like a little thing, but it’s a break I look forward to each day. I’m afraid I’m entering a power struggle. She knows I’m angry and I don’t know how to deal…what natural consequence can I follow-up on? There don’t seem to be any. I know her goal is for attention (and to be let out of her room…we have her “locked” in w/ a knob cover), and I don’t want her to see/sense my reaction, but I feel like I’m gonna blow; it’s a no-win/no feel good situation. She wins in the end. Suggestions?

  3. Hi Kara,

    Gee, I hope I was helpful a few months ago. If not, I apologize. Sometimes I don’t get notified when someone comments and I feel completely neglectful when I hear later that someone was waiting for my response.

    So lets get to today’s challenge.

    First, I have to say, that I am SO very thankful that I am no longer in this stage of development with my kids because it can SUCK. Yep, I said it. This tweener stage between napping and no napping is a killer on any mom, let alone a mom with an infant.

    My very good friend, (who is also in your situation) and I talk frequently about all the ways she can support her two older girls settling down for quiet time, get some needed afternoon rest herself AND allow her infant to get the sleep he needs to grow and propser.

    I will tell you what – we try everything – because the truth is – there is no fast, set rule for this kind of thing.

    So first and foremost, let yourself be angry, cranky, upset, confused and tired. It’s okay. I promise, this too shall pass, it just wont’ pass quickly enough LOL., I have found, that if you honor how you feel, you can pass through it much quicker than by feeling guilty and feeling badly that you are experiencing natural responses to sleep deprivation.

    What is most important is that you start thinking about a long term plan. Now, 2 1/2 year olds can not be reasoned with so talking about all the benefits to napping will just leave you more frustrated.

    So, the goal is to help the child connect the dots. Here are a few ideas.

    1. No nap or quiet time, bed time is earlier. You will have to work at making the connection and when I say earlier bedtime, I mean early enough for the child to sense that they are missing some quality family time.

    2. Remember that this will take time. You are creating a new habit, a new way of looking at choices and follow through and natural consequences long before they make any real sense to the child. Trust me, they will later on.

    3. You can create a 5 minute (use a timer) connect time at the beginning of nap/rest time, then set a timer so she can see the time clicking by (another 55 minutes) and begin a whole new tradition around sleeping. You can also follow up the nap/rest with special time when everyone gets up. That means that baby waits while you attend to the older child. You don’t have to spend a lot of time, but it will need to be quality, uninterrupted, no sharing with another sibling time. Again, this will take a bit of training, and, in my experience, can work beautifully.

    4. Can you move yourself even for a few days to another room so you don’t notice the kicking? Anywhere will do, as long as you are rested so when you next engage with your child, you have a smile that says, I am ready for the afternoon.

    Please remember, kids don’t do things to bug their parents – at least not for the most part – they try to answer simple questions – How do I know that I belong here and that I am important to people. They rarely think to themselves – gee, I guess sleeping would be beneficial for everyone concerned.

    Okay, give it a shot, keep me posted and for goodness sake, if you find something that works – give yourself at least 7 days, let us know.

    Be Well,

  4. Morning Lese,

    All the information out in the world can be more confusing than helpful. That is why I settled on one philosophy that supported relationships, independence, courage and participating in life. Seems to me that inside of those 4 powerful concepts are everything I need to know about raising kids.

    There is a balance between Firm and Kind. In case you aren’t familiar with this Adlerian term – Firm is respectful to the adult, kind is respectful to the child. This is the balancing act of No and Yes.

    I do think that there are times when NO is absolutely in order. But gosh, so often, Yes, As Soon As will do the trick AND leave the door open to more conversation on the subject.

    In the end, trust yourself. No matter what anybody else tells you, if you have taken the time to identify your values, created a roadmap that you can use to navigate your way through all the changes your children make, you will begin to see a pattern of what works and what doesn’t with each of your kids.

    I know that raising 5 kids means that I am raising 5 completely different, completely unique, individuals and I have to keep remembering that what worked for one, won’t necessarily work for any of the others. This helps me learn to trust myself, trust my kids and to take chances with my parenting decisions.

    Thanks for writing.

  5. Two-day nap update (thank you, first of all, from the bottom of my heart, for your support):
    Kady has enjoyed two special “outings” following her quiet time in the afternoon. She has still avoided taking a nap (even though she is dead-tired) but has not banged on the door w/ her feet. The first thing she tells me is, “Momma, I didn’t hit the door or the wall.” We’ll see how long it lasts, but so far so good. Any suggestions on a type of timer/clock for this age? I would like to try that as well.

    I continue to be so challenged each day by my toddler. We are in the midst of big-time button-pushing and tremendous testing (you know…let’s see what momma does when I walk away in the grocery store…how will momma react? I want so badly to steer Kady (2 ½) down the right track, but every moment we go from one hurdle to the next (exhausting). Sometimes I feel like one of those crazy parents who is chasing after their kid in the aisle (I’m just supposed to leave the store…right?).

    Anyway (rambling here…), I’m so spent w/ it and do feel as though I constantly blah, blah, blah and she hears it all, but only acts on it when she prefers. I hold it together, try not it be too reactive and remain as neutral as I can (and try to follow your wonderful advice).

    My challenge of the day…leaving the playground (or in general, helping Kady to move along and stop stalling)…I’ve given warnings and she just continues to ignore (being napless doesn’t help). My husband and I decided to begin talking about privileges and giving her one responsibility…to calmly follow directions when told it’s time to go. I guess (help me out here) that we will give her the goal of going to the playground after one week of showing us that she can follow directions when it’s time to go. If she refuses to follow directions, then we start counting the days again (?).

    Is this too much for a toddler to take-in; too vague? I feel that she may not remember or associate it w/ the goal. What language can we use w/ her, to avoid lecturing, but get the point across? Can it work at 2 1/2?

    If she doesn’t cooperate (like today), I have to pick her up and carry to the car. This can be a huge challenge though, if I have my infant in a front pack. Today I left (just to see) and went inside a greenhouse and watched her reaction…she didn’t even notice I was gone. I certainly don’t want her to think I’d leave her behind, but I am out of ideas. I told her the playground is a privilege and when she shows me that she can follow directions, then we can return.

    Ugh. Thanks ahead for any suggestions.

  6. Hi Kara,

    I don’t have any advice about timers. My only thought is this, bring your daughter with you and let her try every single one of them until she screams with delight over the one that wins her fancy. Then buy it. And if you have been giving her allowance after Family Meetings, then she can either spring for the whole purchase or chip in half. Try a kitchen store and let the people know what you are doing so they don’t think your baby is just playing around with the merchandise.

    Yes Kara, pick her up and leave the store. Do not open your mouth. Get a babysitter for the next time. Listen, I could walk you through this, but your daughter is telling you everything you need to know. You just keep missing the signals because you have decided HOW YOU want to parent. Sorry. You have to throw everything you thought you would do and who you would be as a mom out the window and start parenting to the child who is living in your house.

    You have a strong, independent, I want to do it kind of kid. Train her. Hold her accountable. Challenge her. Let her get pissed and cry and throw things. And stand there with confidence and wait for her. I promise, if she thinks you are willing to support her independence she will start working with you. Think of all the ways you can do this everyday and you will have a happy, tired little girl at the end of each day.

    Okay, playground – first, ask her how SHE want to leave the playground. I had one child who wanted 10 reminders before we left and one child who wanted me to say “I am going to the car now, it’s time to leave.” So ask her. Then you can try the P & R, but I would go 2 days. 5 days may be a bit long, but I could be wrong. She is a clever little gal.

    It is hard, really hard raising an independent, head strong little kid, but Kara, you gotta get in there and parent to her. You can do it. She is a SHOW ME kid. Not a Talk To Me Kid. So stop talking.

    Make agreements, follow through and then keep moving.

    And of course you wouldn’t leave her behind, but a good scare from time to time reminds kids that they have parents for a reason. Try and set it up with a friend so that you can really stay out of site until the terror shows up.

    Yes, I know I will get a lot of flack for this, but I’m sorry. I care more about a child “learning” what happens when they loose track of their parent, then telling parents to try and muscle their kids around every time they go out in public.

    At the end of the day, you are free to do whatever you like, but it worked for me.

    Have fun.

    Kara, have you considered the Forum? LOL

    Be Well,

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