Now, I’m not talking about the kind of positive parenting that makes the parent feel good and the child bad (I’m looking at you, reward charts!) I’m talking about the positive parenting that is wholly based in joy, in mutual respect and the idea that both parent and child can be very, very happy! And there is one simple word that will get you well on the way to being this positive parenting wizz.
And yes! I know that probably sounds implausible- a title intended to make you click through when really it’s something far more complicated, like, the one word is Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and what will make you a positive parenting guru is:
S- Sublime natural parenting skills passed down to you from generations of intuitive parenting
U- Unlimited Nanas, Grandads, Aunties, Brothers who will come and give you a break
P- Piles of chocolate
E- Exercising mindfulness for thirty minutes every hour
R- Reading everything ever written by Naomi Aldort, Robin Grille, Alfie Kohn, Sarah Ockwell-Smith
and so on.
But no! That’s not this post! I really mean it! ONE WORD.
It will make you a happier, more positive parent in two ways – practically, life will feel happier for you and your kids. And mentally, you will experience a shift that will help you feel far, far, far more content.
Okay, let’s go.
The word? (Are you as excited as I am?! Yes?!) YES! The word is Yes! Oh jeepers, this is confusing.
Before I became pregnant I thought a parent’s main job was the No-er. The person to just say no a lot, to help that child be safe/ not get too spoiled/ to know boundaries.
When my first child was born I began to say “yes” intuitively. Oh, you wanted breastmilk now? Just 35 minutes after your last breastfeed? This pamphlet tells me to say No. But I shall say yes! Oh, you only want to sleep close to me? My health visitor said NO WAY, but I say YES WAY!
I didn’t go all the way though. I still held tightly to my role as no-er. It took some reading to help me realise that my role as a parent is that of a Yes-er! Her partner in this dance of life.
My daughter took me on a journey of yeses. Some were easier than others. (Here’s an example of a time I said a big yes to something and it turned out to be exactly what we all needed – also lots of ideas in there for getting your parenting mojo back!)
Sometimes I had to do a lot of research before I said yes. (For example, saying yes to risk taking! Letting a child play on whatever they want on the playground, without calling Be Careful.)
And as my children have grown, and I’ve grown as a mother, my YES has become bigger and more confident and I feel it is one of THE things that leads us to have a happy home. (N.B we have really freaking bad, grumpy days too. Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t reached positive parenting nirvana yet, my friends.) I would say we have a large amount of happy time primarily because the word YES abounds in our house.
I believe that this yes-loving parenting takes the benefits of love bombing and injects them into every day life. Love bombing is a practice made famous by psychologist Oliver James involving taking your traumatised/ disconnected/ struggling child off for some one to one time where you do whatever they want.
After love bombing, many report that it has been the first time for months, or years, they have remembered how much they love their child.
James has seen HUGE results from this method. He believes that love bombing restores connection and resets a child’s emotional thermostat. I believe that we can lovebomb every day by saying yes more!
Yes or some form of yes
I believe adults have fallen into a trap of saying no. In fact, some of the websites dedicated to positive parenting are chockablock with advice about how to say No kindly and with compassion, and then giving a star on their chart when they accept our no without a tantrum. No is often our default, often before we have even registered the question. Perhaps we believe that children are always kind of messy or chaotic and their requests are never sensible or fitting. I’m not sure. But I know I hear a lot of Nos.
I beleive that positive parenting needs to be based on saying yes.
Sandra Dodd says
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.”
Our role as parents isn’t to say no or “put in the boundaries” rather it is to open the gates! Our children are often quite unable to set about getting what they need without our cooperation (on a practical level, for example, our fridges are too heavy to open, our taps too tall, our packets of crisps too tricky) – we are the ones who can support them to get their needs met. It simply isn’t fair to disallow them this opportunity purely because of their size and how long they’ve lived on the planet. (In fact, it’s prejudiced.) Saying yes creates a bit more of a level playing field.
Equal = happy
Saying yes acknowledges the thing that is important to your child. It says that their wishes are important to the family. Saying yes to your children let’s them know that they are valued, equal members of this unit. And, we all know that the happiest groups of people are those with the most equality amongst them. See more on this or read The Spirit Level.
Is it a stretch to apply this research, albeit tentatively, to the family? The Spirit Level concluded that equal societies = happier societies because there is more trust, less anxiety and mental health problems, and less health problems. I absolutely believe the same applies to the family. More equality in the home leaves more room for trust and connection and general well being. I reckon family is a microcosm of society and therefore equality amongst the family is vital and meaningful and a means to happiness. (Although I would LOVE to see some research on the relationship between hierarchy in the home and wellbeing of family members.)
YES is money in the bank (I don’t really mean “money”. Or “bank”)
You see, our children, when they come to us asking for something are putting in a bid. And the answer we give them either builds them up or not.
World-renowned relationship researcher and co-founder of The Gottman Institute, Dr. John Gottman, has conducted 40 years of research with thousands of people. From his research has emerged a practice that is important to the emotional connection between two people – the act of “turning toward” your loved one when a bid is made.
Take for example a simple bid for attention. “Will you play with me?” A positive response would either be “Yes, let’s play” or something like “Oh, I would LOVE to play with you. You are my favorite person in the whole world to play with. At 6:00, I’ll be finished with my work and ready to play. Let’s make it a date!” This helps the child feel acknowledged and important. Each time you turn toward your child in this way, Gottman says you are making a deposit in their Emotional Bank Account.
On a very practical level, when you answer your child’s bid this way you will feel enormously more connected to them, and therefore happier. They, likewise, will feel much more connected and steady in their relationship with you.
Less distraught child moments definitely add to your happiness as a parent, don’t you reckon?
Positive parenting is about connecting, filling up cups and putting joy/money in the emotional bank!
Positive parenting dismantles a culture of control
We aren’t meant to live coercively. Forcing or manipulating people to do things. It’s the old military industrial complex making us that way. I believe humans are meant to choose freely, in joy. Letting go of being controlled and a need to control circumstances or people is so, so, SO LIBERATING! We can absolutely choose this freedom in our role as parents.
Saying YES to our children frees us up from the awfulness of feeling like we can or should make other people do things. It releases us from thinking we can make our child a happy/successful/safe adult. All we can do is help them know happiness right here, today, when they ask for something they’ve identified as being important. Positive parenting is saying yes to this moment.
This being present, answering this request, right now is mindfulness in practice. Mindfulness shrugs off that culture of control. Mindfulness says “I can’t control everything. So I am just going to BE. Right here, right now, in this moment.”
The radical in me loves mindfulness because it disrupts the training we’ve received in our culture that leads us to use power and control unconsciously (with ourselves and with others). We perpetuate systems that we internalized from childhood because we remain unaware of how they operate within us and through us. Mindfulness is a game changer because it allows us to create awareness of what we’ve internalized and it shifts us toward greater consciousness of ourselves.
So mentally, cultivating a culture of freedom in your home will make you all more positive. Saying yes will give your heart wings.
(Although, having said that, my first endeavour of truly applying the culture of freedom principle in my own home led, in a very practical way to happier sleep situation for Ramona and I.)
Positive parenting is based on a principle of YES
Saying yes isn’t a rule. In fact, we should be in the business of dismantling rules and nurturing principles. Saying yes more is a principle! The principle is that we are open minded and we value our children’s requests and ideas! And we meet their request and ideas in turn, with principles! So instead of the answer to a request being “No! Because our rule is Dinner Is Eaten At the Table!” the answer might be “Ah, you feel like having a picnic dinner on the rug! Well, we do value family time together, so how about we join you there?” (Read more eloquent stuff on Rules vs principles here.) The less arbitrary rules we have in our household, the more children trust us when we guide them with principles. They know we are not just pulling the wool over their eyes with a pointless NO or rule.
Don’t think of “say yes” as a rule. In fact, use the better phrasing of “Say yes more.” Ask yourself, “Why not? Who’s going to die?” If you’re unsure of yes say, “Let me think about it.” And then do think. (You can also get on line to ask for perspective.) Don’t use it as a delaying tactic, hoping they’ll forget. Be trustworthy.
See these as tools to move toward being your child’s partner. Rather than shutting down a child’s request that may be inconvenient, see them as requests to explore, to try out their ideas. Help them find safe, respectful of others, practical ways to do what has piqued their curiosity.
Who’s going to die? hahaha. Love the low standards! But for real, we do tend to build things up into big things when they need’t be, don’t you think? Read more on the excellent blog, Living Joyfully.
Positive parenting starts with a little yes here and there
The YES philosophy is one held dear to the unschooling community. One of the very wise things about these folk is that they/we always recommended starting a radical new way of parenting gradually. Don’t all of a sudden throw your rules out of the bath or your baby out the window. Your children will not know what is going on and you might go a little bit cuckoo.
Just say yes one time where you might have said no. Perhaps you might want to ease into it with these alternative phrases to No and other commands.
As you make space in your life for this yes, you will find more room there and you will be able to say yes one more time. (You are decluttering the nos! They don’t bring you joy!) Increasingly you will find yourself saying yes, and yes, and yes. And you will be able to cope and your life will have the perfect amount of room for all the yeses. Your lives may well become big, wild and free YES!
Will you give it a little try? Can you see if this one word, and the principle behind it, will make you a happier parent?
A little note on privilege: A comment on this blog often springs to mind, when I write about this positive parenting lark. It was “Yeah, but that’s all well and good when you live in a yurt!” And I just want to acknowledge my privilege, as a white, physically able, middle class woman with access to all the resources. Please read more about my thoughts on privilege and how I believe this kind of parenting – respectful/ gentle/ principle focused/ consensual/ unschooling / positive parenting (whatever you want to call it!!!) is available to everyone. Including lots of links to people doing it hard in many different situations.