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The Quest for Yes in Parenting

It happens to every parent. Like the villain in a scary movie, it can feel like there is a giant “NO” lurking around every corner. Sometimes we can take the blame. At other times, the requests or behavior of our child can put us on a constant collision course with “NO”.   Either way, it can be demoralizing to moms, dads and kids when parents are holding a Cal Ripken-like streak of “no’s” when all we want to do is offer up a single, solitary ‘yes’.

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Getting a ‘no’ response in most contexts generally indicates rejection, loss of power and negativity while a ‘yes’ infers acceptance, agreement and permission. There are even changes that can be detected on functional MRI scans indicating how the brain processes ‘no’ versus ‘yes’. Much like an adult can have a power inequity between themselves and the person to whom they answer at work, a child shares a similar discrepancy in the parent/child relationship. Often there are good reasons for that inequity, particularly when parent decisions revolve around safety, responsibility and values.


Strategies to identifying the path to yes (or avoiding the inevitable road to ‘no’)

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Creating the possibility of yes

Sometimes when parents are in the rut of saying ‘no’ to every request, it can be helpful to manufacture a ‘yes’ in a low leverage situation. Creating situations that do not have long-term consequences can often help break the ‘no’ cycle. Asking questions even when we know the best choice (well, at least a parent’s preference) may not be made can be a great way to change up the parent/child rehearsed dance and bring a little spontaneity to the relationship. Having more ‘yes’ opportunities as parents can also have a positive impact on our child’s ability to be resilient, gain emotional balance, find insight and become more empathic.  Scroll down 2 paragraphs for some low leverage ‘yes’ opportunities…..


That totally makes sense….. (and…..)

We’ve all heard the stories from the competition….. “All the other parents let their kids have cell phones” “Every parent lets their son/daughter stay out until 1 AM” A parent’s choice is to fight the lack of merit in the supposed gaggle of parents who are allowing something that does not fit family values or we could choose the path of validation.  What we do not want for ourselves or our kiddos are the consequences following those behaviors and, more times than not, our kids don’t really want the consequences either. Tabling the request in some good old-fashioned validation can often help ease such requests and show the wisdom in their point of view (without agreeing to something that might fly in the face of our parenting).   Of course every kid wants a cell phone, to have no curfew, to eat ice cream for dinner and have an unlimited Amazon funding source AND each of these can be problematic.  Often, validation can help a ‘no’ feel more compassionate and thoughtful.  After all, the wisdom in saying ‘no’ to our child often revolves around their lack of experience or inability to delay or avoid short-term gratification in the interest in long-term goals.  Parents may not receive the same smile if they not providing the desired ‘yes’, but validation can help show the wisdom in the child’s thinking and affect.

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Today’s daily affirmation: “I Will Say YES! I Will Say YES! I Will Say YES!”

Putting ourselves and our children on notice that we have noticed a drop of ‘yes’ within a sea of ‘no’ can help recalibrate the family. Be honest. Be transparent. Point out how little enjoyment everyone gets out of saying and hearing ‘no’. This strategy has the benefit of helping create a little parent empathy around how miserable it is always saying ‘no’. It also can help bring everyone’s thinking back from the automated ‘no’ response, which has a neurological impact on how open a child’s mind is to hearing their parent. Desert on a school night? YES! Homework after dinner? YES! Playing an extra 30 minutes of video games? YES! While we wouldn’t want to have an every day YES! from such inquiries, a 1-day departure from the monotonous NO! can be helpful and keep kids and parents on their toes.


Let’s think about this……

Our child is coming to us to make a decision. First, let’s put a check in the ‘awesome’ column. While they may not be sitting on our every word, the act of a child coming to a parent for a decision is a great start and reflects behavior we, as parents, can celebrate! Let’s say the request is something that has a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answer, such as “Can I not do my homework this week and just play Minecraft instead?” We’ve got an easy ‘no’ here, correct? Maybe we could add a little sarcasm to really knock the point home? Or parents can use this as a great opportunity to invite a ‘let’s think about this’ and have offer an invitation to help kids set their own limits. What are the consequences? What would it look like to come in to class without completing a shred of homework for 5 days? How would that feel? These are the discussions that can have a lasting impact on our child’s ability to evaluate decisions with parents in the moment and without parents down the road. A definitive ‘no’ (and, at times, even an absolute ‘yes’) stifles thought, discussion and the opportunity for choice and responsibility.


Good luck find the path to yes

The Quest for Yes in Parenting

Jim Holsomback

Jim Holsomback (MA; ABT) is the director of clinical outreach for McLean Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts and program director for Triad Adolescent Services, located in Lexington, Massachusetts. He has more than 20 years of experience working with adolescents and families struggling with anxiety, depression, substance use disorders and self-injury. Jim has a vast amount of experience teaching and supporting families struggling to identify ways to establish effective family systems as well as presenting in regional and national trainings and conferences on topics such as contingency management, digital and substance dependence and supporting parents of preteens and adolescents struggling with self-harm & suicidality.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). The Quest for Yes in Parenting. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Oct 2018
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