My daughter went through a stage when she would reflexively say “No!” to any question presented. She totally outsmarted that positive parenting trick of offering two choices and letting her pick – e.g, “Would you like to put on shoes or boots today?” “No.” Even offers of a special treat like ice cream would meet with a “Noyes!”
Although perhaps not as extreme, I find that I go through stages of reflexively no-ing my children - particularly when we haven't had much of a break from each other. (Thank you, winter vacation!) There are obviously many times when No is important – for safety or for health or for (my) sanity. But often it’s just my own laziness (finger painting means set up and clean up and probably a bath and I just don’t feel like doing all that). And often there’s just no good reason for it (why not let them put on three removable tattoos at once?). So when I read recently about having a “Yes Day,” I knew I wanted to give it a try.
“Yes Day” is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. In the Yes Day I read about, the mother told her children ahead of time that it was going to be a day where all their requests were met with a Yes, with a few ground rules. I decided I didn’t think my kids – or I – were quite ready for this incarnation of Yes Day. I mean, I like watching Go Diego Go and eating ice cream too, but I didn’t think that would be the best way to spend the day. (Although in retrospect, this sounds like a pretty awesome day.) For our version of it, I decided I would avoid saying no, but not tell the kids what I was doing ahead of time.
Our Yes Day ended up being one of the most fun days we have had in a while. Unsurprisingly, it was a busy day. We did six science experiments, made and baked shrinkydinks, built a couch fort, converted the fort into “pillow room,” built an outdoor fort with a wagon and ferns, did yoga, made music, took a huge bubble bath, colored, made gift tags out of old postcards, read books and danced. And yes, we also went out for ice cream and watched two episodes of Diego.
There were a few times when I really wanted to say no. The most cringe-worthy for me was letting my son eat a hamburger at Dairy Queen. Although rationally I know that one fast food meal is not going to kill him, it still just grossed me out. And by the time we got to building couch forts, I was ready for a break from all the activities. Normally I probably would have encouraged them to play in the basement or draw a picture. But I’m glad I said yes. It ended up being 3 minutes of work to set it up and 3 more minutes to put the couch back together, and it gave them an hour of joy.
I’m sure if they had known that they could ask for anything the day would have been more extravagant. My kids seemed surprised when I asked them at the end of the day if they realized that I hadn’t said no to them all day. (The one exception was when my older two kids thought it would be fun to smear bubbles with a bit too much gusto over the baby’s face in the bath, and it was actually more of a “nonononononononono.”) My son immediately tried to make up for lost opportunities by saying he wished he could stay home from school the next day and have pancakes for breakfast. The Yes Day equivalent of asking the genie for three more wishes.
I think Yes Day ended up being so much fun because I didn’t feel like I needed to “parent” quite so much and instead I could enjoy just spending time with my children. As parents we are constantly weighing the logistics, pros and cons of every question posed, and it was freeing to know the answer would just be yes. The most eye-opening for me was saying “yes” to the requests to do little things together. Very often when my son asks me to draw a picture with him, I’ll answer with “Let me finish putting away the dishes first” or some other variation on that. While not sustainable on a daily basis – because my house would be even more of a disaster than it currently is – it was lovely to be able just to say yes.
Even though it took me three hours to unload the dishwasher.