There's a Yes Challenge making its rounds on the internet. The whole idea is just to try saying yes to everything for 24 hours. But Shonda thinks I should say yes for an entire year. I decide to be more practical and try to say yes as much as I possibly can for one week.
Obviously, my improv background and research draws me to this idea of saying yes as a way to increase positivity and decrease conflict. One of the main improv tenets is the idea of Yes, And. See, in an improvised scene if one person says they want a divorce, the other needs to say yes to the concept and then add a new detail to the scene. If they just say, "No, we're not even married, crazy pants," the scene becomes more about the conflict (he said/she said) then about the relationship between the two characters.
This is cute on an improv stage. When we're making something up on the spot, we need ground rules such as Yes, And in order to help each other flesh out spontaneous scenes. It just doesn't work to have someone negating everyone else's ideas.
But I wondered how this would work in real life.
In the real world, saying yes to everything is fraught with problems. I can think of tons of situations where people should say no when they're thinking and feeling no. No questions asked. And no is a great boundary builder. It's important to know when no is the best way to go for us personally.
But this idea of saying yes to everything, or at least more often than we do, is picking up steam and gaining in popularity in parenting and positive psychology. If nothing else, trying to say yes as much as humanly possible for one week will shed light on why I sometimes say no. Ideally, the challenge will make me a more positive person, and if I can have just a glimmer of the creative play in my real life that I experienced as an improviser, I'm game for trying to say yes yes yes for one full week.
I wake up Monday ready to say yes to my toddler. I know there's a growing movement of parents who claim that you shouldn't say no to your children, but I remain skeptical at best. Children are pretty infamous for testing boundaries till they break. Doesn't a hearty "no" every so often keep them alive?
Ella starts walking down the stairs, and I'm all about it. I'm not a huge fan of the let's-play-on-the-stairs-while-daddy-prays-I-don't-fall purgatory, but this week is about yes, so I reserve judgment.
Then she say's, "I too big stairs."
Um, I definitely know she's not too big to walk her two-year-old self down the stairs, but before I can correct her, I catch myself. I have to at least try to say yes today.
I offer a feeble, "Okay?" At least it's not no. Then I ask who else is too big for stairs.
She starts naming all the stuffed animals, friends, and relatives who are too big for stairs. "Piggy too big stairs. Daddy too big. Caca too big (Unfortunately, she still calls my husband Caca. We're working on it.)".
She found a game! I'm convinced that by stepping out of her way and not negating her in the beginning, I have allowed her to play a creative listing game. Who is too big for stairs?
I'm convinced that saying yes, or at least a feeble okay? to a child is the way to go until she starts pulling fragile and eye-gougey instruments from a kitchen cabinet. I know I'm supposed to say yes to this toddler game too, but I'm fairly concerned for her safety. It's just a potato peeler and a meat thermometer, but I normally air on the side of caution and immediately shut stuff like this down ASAP. I'm what some have called a "sensitive parent." Some may say I helicopter.
I fight my instinct to say no and close the drawer and instead teach her how to handle the utensils. She seems really confident after I trust her with things that are normally off-limits. I watch her as she carefully handles the items and chants to herself, "Sharp, careful."
I realize a couple of things. Yes has allowed her to gain some confidence. I normally say no because I'm concerned about how a real-life toddler scene is going to play out. She'll make a mess or get hurt. But by worrying less about the future, I've allowed her to create her own scene. Yes is also helping me find teachable moments throughout the day with her. You can't learn how to handle a potato peeler if you're not allowed to open the drawer. I realize I want a tattoo that says that. It's deep as hell.
Then Ella carries a super fragile dish to the dining room table, sets it down carefully, and smiles at me, proud of the work she's done.
I end the day ready to say yes to all the things! Plus, it's putting me in a much better mood, probably because we've had way fewer toddler power struggles. Spoiler alert for people who haven't experienced them: toddler power struggles aren't the most fun thing in the world.
Ella wakes up ready to test out my yes challenge. She wants to jump in the kiddy pool after I get her dressed, she wants to eat yogurt without a spoon, and then she wants to experience what peanut butter feels like on her legs.
I have a revelation that reads like Carrie Bradshaw typing at her laptop, "Do we have to be okay with messy in order to yessy?"
I'm disgusted at myself for thinking of such a question and call it a day.
I have another revelation today.
Ella takes it upon herself to open the front door and start racing toward the street. Obviously, I'm not super excited about her choices.
I race after her and grab her before she reaches the street. If ever there's a time to say no to a child, it's when they try to run into traffic, right?
But the yes to everything challenge takes hold of me as I kneel down to talk to Ella. Sternly, and very seriously, I tell her how running into the street could give her a terrible, very bad oachy. I tell her about cars and how big they are and how much it would hurt if she was in the road when a car came by. I even tell her it made me upset that she ran toward the street because I was scared she might get a bad oachy.
And then the yes came in. I tell her that she can run all over the yard. I show her where she can run instead of dwelling on or stopping at where she can't.
She seems to be picking up what I'm putting down, so we run back into the safe yard.
I decide this yes thing can be thought of as teachable moments. Toddlers want to push the boundaries, and we obviously have to keep them safe. So, hard no to running in the street. But yes gives us the opportunity to focus on the positive. Where can they run? What can they do on their own? They're fighting to feel more independent, and yes can help alleviate those power struggles.
Later, she wants to drink from a full glass of my water. Usually, I would pass on this because I don't want to clean up the mess, and I don't want the glass to fall and break.
In improv, people tend to say no when they fear the unknown. They want to try to control the scene and keep themselves safe by shutting down ideas. If I'm saying yes to everything my scene partner says, I don't know where the scene could end up. And that can feel scary.
I was shutting Ella down in a really similar way for very similar reasons. I fear the unknown and want to try to control future outcomes.
Unfortunately, that's not how people learn. People learn to carefully handle a glass by drinking out of a glass. Accidents will happen, but that's how we learn and improve.
So I turn it into a game. I tell Ella she can drink from my glass, but I want her to try not to spill a drop. She's totally down.
Eventually, she spills. No stress. I tell her that when we spill something, we have to clean it up. I hand her a paper towel. She cleans up her spill, and we move it along.
No power struggles, no tears, and no extra work for daddy. And I like to think she learned something and gained some confidence.
Ella decides she wants to not only strap herself into her car seat but also climb into the Toyota Highlander to get into said car seat in the first place. She's not yet three feet tall, so I'm a little hesitant to give this one a yes.
But I do.
I stand behind her as she crawls up into the car seat. She ends up not needing my help, which I would never have known had a said no to her.
But the buckling of the car seat goes less smoothly. I ask if she wants help, and she says no.
So I take a seat on the curb and just wait. This is when the magic of yes happens.
Eventually, she gets tired of trying on her own, and she yells out, "Help please."
I painlessly fasten the buckles, and we're on our way. No tears. Easy peasy.
And that's today's lesson. Sometimes saying yes to everything your children want to try gives them the autonomy to then ask for your help. Better to be asked for help than to demand that you help them, right?
This morning, Ella says she wants avocado for breakfast. Obviously, I say yes, but then she raises the stakes by saying she wants unpeeled avocado.
I hand her the whole avocado and decide this whole yes challenge is just one big social experiment.
Ella takes a pretend bite from the avocado and cheers, "Yummy!" Then she just hands it back to me. I ask her if she wants me to cut it up for her, and it's her turn to say yes.
Saying yes is like witchcraft. If I would have said, "No, you cannot take a bite of avocado peel," she would have had a meltdown. Logic be damned.
But by letting her see for herself, she actually requested that I help her out by doing what I just wanted to do in the first place.
I will say that yesterday's car seat incident and today's avocado detour took time. I had to be super patient while she tried and struggled on her own. If I was more pressed for time, I could see how infuriating this yes thing could be. But maybe that's the lesson. We need to find the time to allow our little ones to struggle and learn on their own.
But I fully get that sometimes that time just doesn't exist.
Ella decides she wants to drink from my glass again. She says, "Careful," and I'm relieved that something that I've said has been absorbed.
She carefully drinks, puts the glass down without spilling, and then plays with her toys.
Did she learn something this week? Did my yessing help her gain skills and confidence?
I've certainly been in a better mood. There have been way fewer tantrums and power struggles. And my focus has shifted from just completing tasks to being more observational and curious about Ella. Saying yes more has allowed me to pay more attention to what Ella wants and why.
It's like improv. There's a much better give and take when we say yes to each other instead of trying to force each other to just do what the other says.
Ella starts the day with some absurdism. While we're playing, she grabs my thumb and yells, "My thumb!"
Obviously, my thumb is not her thumb, and she's just being a classic toddler. I point to her thumb and say, "That's your thumb."
She's not buying it. She doubles down and pulls at my thumb and repeats, "My thumb!!!"
I follow the yes challenge and relent, "Okay, it's your thumb. Go ahead and take it."
She looks skeptical. I repeat that she should indeed go ahead and take the thumb if it's hers.
She tries once then runs from the room screaming, "Go away, Daddy. Go away!"
Like magic, saying yes to her reality made it impossible for her to get into a power struggle with me. By saying yes, the struggle was solely hers: how do I take Dad's thumb off?" If I said no, the struggle would have been a classic Dad says/Ella says routine. And believe me when I say, no one wins during that routine.
Lessons Learned from a Week of Saying Yes to Everything
Here's what I learned trying to say yes to everything this week:
- Saying yes to everything is a bad idea. Toddlers need us to save them from cars and sharp things. They need boundaries. Grown ups also need the boundary of no. However, trying to say yes to everything this week made me realize why I normally overuse "no," which is why I think it's a powerful exercise for people to try.
- I usually say no when I want to avoid a future mess or struggle. But by saying no too often, I feed into power struggles.
- Saying yes more has led my toddler to struggle more on her own, which has led her to ask me for help more often, learn new skills, and gain confidence.
- I've been happier this week. Saying yes more often has let my toddler do the playful work of learning, while I can step back, observe, and write about it in this blog post.
I'm going to keep trying to embrace yes whenever I possibly can and reserve no for when human safety is on the line. Being human is messy, imperfect work, so we need to be brave enough to say yes to each other, instead of using no as a way to avoid struggle.
Here are some resources to check out that have informed this week's Yes Challenge:
- Brene Brown's chat with Kelly Leonard on his Getting to Yes, And Podcast is a gem. They explore the idea of embracing yes and how people say no to avoid vulnerability.
- Conscious Discipline, No Drama Discipline, and Positive Parenting Solutions are three resources that help parents avoid power struggles. I was exposed to Conscious Discipline from Miss Beth's Pathway to Learning branch of Kindermusik in the Hudson Valley, and it's been a game-changer for helping us avoid power struggles.
Check Out More Challenges:
So, I challenge you to say yes as much as you can for one week and see why you normally say no and what happens when you switch to yes.