Saying "YES" to Children
Joyce Fetteroll has written something inspiring for unschoolers and mindful parents.
"Always say yes. Or some form of yes."
Finding ways to say, "yes" when our first impulse might be to say "sorry, no," has been very helpful for me.
Jenny Cyphers had a story in response:
I was at a park day the other day, only Margaux and I and one other mom and kids showed up. She has little kids, 1 and 3, she's on this list too. Her 1 yr old answers "yes" to just about everything. It's really really cute. We were talking about that, and the mom said that perhaps it's because she's always saying "yes", so that her little one copies that. I've seen little kids that will answer "no" to everything, and I got to say it's not nearly as cute as a little kid that says "yes" to everything. That affirmative answer is really powerful, even for really little ones that are just figuring it out!full discussion, on Always Learning, September 2009
Clare Kirkpatrick, responding to a new unschooling mom in 2015:
Consider saying 'yes' more often. Don't just say 'yes' without thought 'because some unschoolers told you to'. But *consider* saying 'yes' more often—in each instance in which you would normally say 'no', ask yourself 'why not yes?' And really pick apart (in as appropriate a time-frame as possible) why you would say 'no'. Is it because a 'yes' would feel frowned upon by others? Is it because you've always said 'no'? If you find yourself saying 'no' to the same things time and time again, then do a bit more deeper work on that issue. There may be something getting in your way you need to unpick— some cultural conditioning; some unhelpful and possibly untrue ideas about children.
Don't put yourself under loads of pressure with this...just work on questioning your 'nos' and 'yesses' in more detail, more mindfully.
Agnès Lommez, not a homeschooling, but a French nutritionist or educator working on a government program to combat growing obesity (yes, even in France) was quoted in Time May 23, 2005 as saying:
The trick is never to tell the children no. Kids can and should eat chips, just not every day.
Pam Sorooshian wrote the following, in a discussion about children, parents saying "yes" when they can:
I went to New Mexico and Sandra picked me up at the airport. We then went to
three grocery stores, one right after another, because Holly (who was maybe 4
or 5 at the time) was really wanting some plums and the first couple of
stores we went to didn't have any. She wasn't being terribly demanding or
whiny or anything—just saying, "Mommy I REALLY would love to have a plum."
So we drove around—which was great because I got to see a bit of
Albuquerque—and we got her some plums and she munched happily in the back
seat while we talked. I was very impressed with Sandra's willingness to do
this - most people would have thought it was MORE than enough to stop at even
one grocery store because a child had a sudden urge to eat a plum. Most
people would have just brushed off the child's urge (do we brush off our OWN
urges like that?) I thought then, and it has been confirmed for me on many
occasions since, that when kids know that their parents are willing to go out
of their own way to help them get what they want, that the kids end up
usually more understanding and able to more easily accept it when parents
don't give them what they want.
This contradicts prevailing wisdom about "spoiling" kids though. And I know
all of us have seen kids who do seem "spoiled" and whose parents appear to
just give them everything on demand and the kids don't seem satisfied -
nothing is ever enough and they whine and fuss and get demanding when they
don't get what they want fast enough to suit them.
So—there is more to it—clearly. There is a respectfulness that develops
between parent and child, over time, that is demonstrated by parents and
expected of everybody in the family.
—Pam Sorooshian, 12/01
My Favorite Word
by Lucia and James L.Hymes, Jr.
There is one word –
My favorite –
The very, very best.
It isn’t No or Maybe.
It’s Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, YES!
“Yes, yes, you may,” and
“Yes, of course,” and
“Yes, please help yourself.”
And when I want a piece of cake,
“Why, yes. It’s on the shelf.”
Some candy? “Yes.”
A cookie? “Yes.”
A movie? “Yes, we’ll go.”
I love it when they say my word:
Yes, Yes, YES! (Not No.)
"My Favorite Word" is from the book
Sing a Song of
Popcorn, Every Child’s Book of Poems (1988),
but I lifted it from a PDF file
here, after having a hard time finding it with google.com.
It has been printed out and taped up in our bathroom for two years, so I figured it would be all over the internet, but it isn't.
Jenny C. wrote:
This is my favorite part of unschooling. Saying "yes"
and finding ways to make it happen, helping my kids get what they want
We know a lot of parents that say "no" a lot and belittle their
children's dreams and ambitions and force their kids to focus on the
parent's narrow view of success and what is "right,"
I want my kids to feel empowered, so I empower them. I don't want their
view of the world to be tainted by "can't", "shouldn't", "wouldn't", and
the like. I want their world to be full of "yes I can," I shall find a
way to do what I want to do with my parent's blessing and help.
So many parents set their kids up where the kids have to defy their
parents to get what they want in life. That is such a huge obstacle and
burden for a young person, almost to the point of self defeating. Some
young people don't have that strength of character or drive to jump that
hurdle and so, stay stuck in that world.
Two recent examples from our lives about saying yes, in this case to a
very young child:
(My response to a discussion on another list about punishment.)
Saying yes doesn't mean that I ignore my needs and limits, or that I
don't keep my children safe, or that they don't learn how to treat
people well. We talk about all these things, and I model respect, and
we often come up with solutions together. I'm not nearly perfect at
it yet, but I really don't punish anymore, and I'm always trying to
work my way toward "Yes, and how can I help?"
Even with Riley, my nearly 2 y.o., who doesn't talk yet — he very
clearly makes his wishes known , and he is more and more able to
model his behavior on what the big people in his life do. This is not
a compliant, "obedient" type of kid at all. But he can work towards
solutions (in his own nonverbal way) because I'm honest with him, in
how I treat him — I always try to find a way to say yes to what he
For instance, today he really wanted to play with the raw eggs —
he didn't understand the difference between the hardboiled ones I
usually give him and the raw ones in the fridge — so I brought one
raw egg up to the bathtub, stripped him to his diaper, and let him
play with it there. Boy, was he surprised when it broke! It was fun
So he's starting to understand that if he's trying to get to something
and I can't seem to find a way to let him, it's because even the big
people don't do that, and there's a good reason.
That's very different from when adults get to do things but then tell
the little ones that *they* can't or that "we don't do that," — a
hypocrisy that children see from very early on, which hurts and
confuses them. Children in those families will be looking for ways to
get beyond the artificial limits because they are trying to figure out
the world around them — they have a dead serious need to get that
(My response to a discussion on another list about young children who
"don't listen" in dangerous situations, like running in the street.)
I think if you watched my younger son (Riley, almost 2 y.o.), you
would probably also say that he "doesn't listen." He is very curious
and active, and he used to run into the street.
Here's how I've worked with teaching him not to run into the street —
I let him go into the street. Sounds crazy, but let me explain.
We live on a cul-de-sac with little traffic. If we didn't live on a
calm street, I would probably take my son to a calm street and let him
play in it. I stand by him the entire time, and if a car comes, I
pick him up and take him to the sidewalk until the car is gone. I
tell him about the car while I'm holding him (and sometimes he is
struggling), and then I point out why it's safe to go back into the
street when the car is gone. Then I put him down and let him walk
back to the street.
If we walk by a parked car, or if we play with our cars in our
driveway, I point out where the windows are and how low Riley is
compared to the windows, how the drivers can't see him. It's just
part of the talking and sharing information that we always do around
Riley almost never goes into the street anymore. He knows what it's
like, and he's learning how the big people handle the street — and
that's all he really wanted to know in the first place. I'm also
careful about the words I use with him, saying "go to the sidewalk,
please" instead of "no" or "don't go in the street."
When a ball rolls into the street, he chases it until the end of the
driveway and stops. When my husband or I go to get the ball, Riley
sometimes follows us and sometimes doesn't. If it's not safe for him
to follow us, I tell him to stay on the sidewalk. If he didn't stay,
I would stay with him until the danger had passed. But he almost
always stays by now.
The last time that he and I took a stroll on the sidewalk, he was
interested in crossing the street, and he was willing to hold my hand
while he did it, and he seemed to understand that we needed to walk
straight across to get to the other side (as opposed to staying in the
street a long time).
He knows about the street at a younger age than my other son did (and
my other son is the one that everyone said was a "good listener,"
meaning he has a calmer, more observant personality that people often
think is "obedience."). With my older son, I didn't let him go in
the street and always said "no" without thinking about whether or not
there was a way to say yes.
My explanation for this: once the power struggle stopped, the
learning could begin.
Jenny Cyphers, about bananas:
My kids are older, 8 and 16, and when they figured out how to open a
banana like a monkey, they opened them all up because it was fun to do! What
they didn't eat, I put in the freezer for making smoothies later. The curious
exploration of the world, by my kids, has led to all kinds of creative thinking
and problem solving for me too, which keeps my own old brain from being stuck!
I love that about unschooling! I know plenty of parents that would never have
allowed their children to open up all the bananas because it would have been
wasteful! What really would have been wasted, was the opportunity to explore
and learn! When others have said, especially Sandra, that learning is more
important, or that learning comes first, this is exactly how I have come to
understand it. That "YES" we can open up all the bananas and learn how monkeys
do it, and that none of them will go to waste!
Robyn Coburn wrote, "Something that comes up a lot is the concept of safety, or the
idea of saying "no" when something is unsafe. I wrote this fairly recently:"
One of the processes that I have noticed in our life, and also in the
postings of others, is that the definition of "safe" has definitely moved
towards the liberal. I find I have to re-examine every time what is safe.
There are times when people visiting our home get agitated because Jayn is
climbing on furniture in way that makes them concerned. I have to reassure
them that she is very balanced and confident. (Jayn's maternal grandfather
was a tightrope walker in a circus—I think she is showing signs of
inheriting his abilities—skipping a generation.)
There are ways that I change my response to "unsafe" mental alarm bells,
rather than making the default position "Jayn must stop or change her
I reorder the environment, putting pillows, moving breakables etc.
I seems to me it is about saying "yes" through my actions, as well as my
I re-examine the environment and action, rather than acting on a knee jerk
reaction. The example that comes to mind is "running around the pool". Our
pool surround is very old concrete, so pitted that it just does not become
slippery. In addition experience reminds me that Jayn is cautious and has
never fallen while running in the wet. When we visit another pool, I do a
check to test the slipperiness of the area, and share my findings with Jayn.
I ask myself what I would be depriving Jayn of by making an arbitrary (or
my-comfort-based) decision on her behalf. It becomes risk assessment. How
much would she realistically be hurt by falling onto her butt, versus the
emotional hurt and stress on our relationship by me not trusting her or
diminishing her self-confidence.
I show Jayn the safe way of accomplishing the action—like holding a plug
by the plastic and not touching the metal prongs.
Robyn L. Coburn
Sandra Dodd (to Robyn's post above):
The risk assessment point is good.
I remember one day vividly when Kirby was one. Probably 16 or 17 months
old, and walking well. We were at an SCA tournament near Colorado Springs,
and he was little enough to be picking other people's stuff up without asking
(he wasn't big enough to ask or know "other people's stuff"). He walked up
holding a steel and leather gauntlet. I asked him where he got it, but asked
him nicely in the same kind of interested way I would've if it was a cool
rock or a flower rather than stolen armor. He very happily led me to the
place. I apologized to the guy (who hadn't yet noticed it missing) and asked
if maybe he had anything that wasn't his. There was something there, a roll
of duct tape or something. So I thanked him and picked that up and went to
the next interesting pile of stuff and asked if it was theirs. It was. Did
they have something that wasn't theirs? They did.
This photo was taken of Kirby and his dad,
the day of the story at left.
Click it to see some other costumes.
The writing is mine (Ælflæd is Sandra).
So Kirby had cross-pollinated a whole row of stuff in wandering among people
who knew who he was and knew his dad and I were within eyesight.
Nobody told him he was a bad boy. Everyone got their stuff back. He got to
look at and touch some cool things, and that was fine.
At one point that afternoon he fell down and cried. He had tripped on a
string that was set up six or eight eight inches off the ground between stakes
(sagging between stakes) to show people how close was too close to put tents
and piles of armor. The adults were walking over it easily and had seen those
little barriers before. Kirby tripped and fell. After I made sure he was
okay and dusted him off, I took him back over and showed him the string and
helped him practice stepping over it, and pointed out how the string went all
the way around those places, and where the other people were walking where
there wasn't string. "That's all," I remember telling him. It was only a
string. Not danger, not malice, not his failure to walk.
A guy from Santa Fe I
knew, thirtiesh, nice guy, was watching us and listening. He came over and
said with tears in his eyes that I was a really good mom and he wouldn't have
thought to explain to someone that age what had happened. Then he told me
something he had never told me or any of us in that group as far as I know. He
had a daughter, somewhere, 14 years old. He had gotten his girlfriend
pregnant when they were sixteen or so, and the girl didn't want him to stick
around and be the father. So he said he always watched parents and thought about
what he would do, how he might have been, as a father. He had spent years
being ashamed and sad.
Years passed. He married and has children (I haven't met them, they're in
another state). I feel good about that, and he's probably a better dad than
he would've been if he hadn't hung around with us for a few years.
And because of his story about having a daughter he didn't know and had
never parented, I was able to calmly and truthfully tell my boys that one reason
they need to be extremely careful about unintended pregancy is that if they
get a girl pregnant, it's not their call whether she has the baby or not, and
it's not their call whether they get to be the daddies or not. They WOULD be
a father, and regardless of their desires or intentions, they might end up
being absent or bad fathers, because the baby was the mother's baby to decide
It's another risk assessment situation. Yes, teenagers sometimes have sex,
but do it safely.
Yes, there are places more dangerous to walk than others, so do it safely.
Yes, you have something that doesn't belong to you, yes it's okay to pick
things up, and yes, let's go take it back.
On the Always Learning list in June, 2007, a mom came back after ten years and reported on changes in her unschooling life: Saying Yes (again)
Parenting peacefully and
on food freedom and other ways to think about choices rather than
For parents of younger teens with unlimited internet, here are some ideas about dealing with teens and porn.
Title Art by Holly Dodd