can I? can I? can I?

June 19, 2010 at 9:01 am 2 comments

Can I eat some dog food? Yes.

Can I help you make dinner? Yes.

Can I wear my pajamas as  my outfit? Yes.

Can I have a bowl of water for my dragon egg to soak in? Yes.

Can I be naked? Yes.

Can I see what this tastes like? Yes.

Can I wear two different shoes? Yes.

Can I text my mom on your phone? Yes.

Can I freeze this fairy girl? Yes.

Children ask for a lot. It’s their job. And Nathan and I try to say “yes” as much as possible. The more we say “yes” the more powerful our “no”s become. When we say “no” automatically, again and again, every single day, the word means less and less until it is so watered down that it is like saying nothing at all. There are other horrible pitfalls to automatically saying “no”, and Nathan wrote a post on these here. The thing I’ve noticed is that saying “no” does not stop children from asking for something else. If you’re looking to save yourself the trials of questioning, saying “no” will not help you. That being said, we still do not say “yes” to everything. Lest this be seen as permissive parenting I have also recently said “no” to the following:

Can we stay up until midnight?

Can I help you make dinner?

Can we watch another movie?

Can I have candy today?

Can I ride without my seat belt? Just real quick?

Can we climb on the roof?

Can I have a knife?

Sometimes I want to say “no” to everything they ask. Sometimes I am struggling with my mood, my sleep level, my own dark thoughts, and I cannot believe that they are still asking for things, that they never stop asking for things, and I want to punish them for asking. This is where self-empathy comes in. It is only possible to say “yes” as much as is good for your kids when the feelings that are pushing you to say “no” have been honored. Recognizing that I am crabby, that I am sleep deprived, or that I am mad, gives me enough mental space to address the issue at hand. Often that issue has nothing to do with the thoughts and feelings squirreling around in my brain, making me miserable and if I can give myself even a drop of empathy for my emotional state I can separate the two.

But the need for self-empathy can be tricky to notice, especially as the onslaught of questions and requests continues unabated, so when I find myself reaching for the “auto-no“, I try to buy myself time by saying something like,

Um… I’m not sure. ..Give me two minutes to think about it and I’ll let you know.

In those two minutes I self empathize: Man, I am crabby right now, I take a couple of deep breaths, and I figure out if I am going to say “no”, what my reasoning is. A good rule of thumb is: if you can’t think of a rational, easily explained, explanation for saying “no”, you should reconsider saying it at all. If I do end up saying “no”, I make sure to provide as much information as needed. Often this leads to a lesson, of sorts, on how the physical world operates, or the customs of american culture, and the kid is left with greater understanding of how “it all works” instead of an understanding that parents are irrational and all-powerful.

Often when I want to say “no” what I really mean is “not now”. If this is the case, I say “yes” and then add an explanation or condition.

Yes. I can read books for you just as soon as I finish sweeping.

Yes. You can paint. Do you want me to stop getting the snack you asked for and set up the paint instead?

Yes. You will be able to play with Elliott but it probably won’t happen until tomorrow.

Yes. We will get ice cream but I’m not sure when that’s going to happen.

Yes. You can build a fort but I want to wait a couple of minutes until I’m ready to help.

When there isn’t a good reason to say “no”, but I still find myself leaning toward it, I reach for empathy again, but this time for my children. If I can put myself in their bodies and imagine what it would be like to have warm play-doh smothering my feet, sun on my bare bum, or fresh honey dripped on my tongue, I can barely help saying “yes”, “yes”, “yes”.

You could use the word “yes” as a gauge for your own emotional health and maturity. Every response that comes, not from your own disassociated and mangled thoughts and feelings, but from  a clear understanding of the exploratory needs of your children, and a rational sense of the issue at hand, serves as proof of not only good parenting but good human-ing.


Entry filed under: empathy, parenting principles. Tags: , , , , , .

self seeking papas

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gsmcmahon  |  June 22, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    I say ‘yes’ to this post. Just the gentle nudge that I needed.

  • 2. obedience « Talk Feeleez  |  July 23, 2010 at 8:12 am

    […] Use NO sparingly. This word is most potent when used only in critical moments, such as immediate safety […]


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