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Are You a “Yes” Parent?

Most parents think of NO as negative — a word with all kinds of harmful ramifications, one to avoid because it sets our guilt meters running, especially where our children are concerned. 

We’ve become a culture of “yes-parents” who don’t want to see our children unhappy for a single minute. In the best interests of our children, we automatically agree to every favor, request or demand without taking your needs, schedule or other commitments into consideration. We don’t want to deprive or disappoint them.

How Much of a ‘Yes’ Parent Are You?
Saying “yes” has become a habit that leaves a parent under-rested and deeply entrenched in a pattern you probably want to — and can — break. When you say ‘yes’ to your children’s every want and whim, you wind up saying ‘no’ to yourself and being overextended and stressed. You can’t be a happy, effective parent if you regularly function on overload.

If any one of these sounds vaguely like you, it’s likely that your children turn you into a yes-person quite easily. It’s time to take stock and learn how to say ‘no’.

—At least one room in your house looks like a toy store.
—At any given hour the couch doubles as a trampoline, a wrestling mat, a hiding place or arts and crafts center.
—Your child wears his Halloween costume to school in February.
—You’re on a first-name basis with the workers at McDonald’s.
—Your child has everything her best friend has.
—Your six-year-old stays up so late that he can fill you in on Jay Leno’s monologue from the night before.
—Your daughter’s last birthday party was more elaborate than your wedding.
—You have three dogs, two kittens, and a parakeet who all hang out around the fish tank.
—You spend most Saturday evenings in the movie theatre parking lot waiting for your children and their friends.
—You spend Sunday evenings writing history reports and crafting science projects you found out about during dinner.
—The text messaging charges are bigger than your monthly cell phone fee.
—Your child’s band equipment takes up the parking space in the garage.

10 Tips for Saying No
When used properly, the word ‘no’ is an indispensable tool against the pressures of parenting. Contrary to popular belief, saying ‘no’ to packed schedules does not hamper children’s future success. Instead, you give children a skill set that enables them to reduce stress, avoid burnout, and learn to choose and devote themselves to the activities they are most passionate about.

‘No’ also teaches children important lessons: how to cope with disappointment, how to argue, how to strike a balance between work and play, and time management. Vital experiences that aren’t always taught in school. When children grow up learning these concepts, they are more likely to be successful in their academics, relationships, and later on, in their careers. Parental ‘no’s are sound and early lessons in how the world works — you don’t always get what you want.

Here are some insights and tips to change how you think about refusing a child’s requests, particularly those extracurricular demands that keep you and your children on the overwhelm-treadmill.

1. Don't make a habit of putting your children's wants and wishes before yours. Parenting is a forever proposition. To safeguard your time, save energy, and preserve your sanity, make optimum use of ‘no’. When you became a parent, you didn’t sign on as full-time chauffeur.

2. Forget keeping up with the Joneses! This is one reason many parents automatically say ‘yes’. Your child doesn’t have to be enrolled in everything his friend is, or own everything his friend has.

3. Think about what’s really involved. When it comes to extracurricular activities, explain the real-time investment needed. A one- or two-hour per week practice triples in length when getting ready and drive time are factored in.

4. Children get over disappointment far faster than parents do. When you say ‘no’, within a few hours, sometimes a few minutes, children move on to a different crisis or need of the moment.

5. Don’t say ‘yes’ to avoid confrontation. If you say ‘yes’ to avert tantrums, you’re putting yourself on the fast track to indentured servitude. By calling up a ‘no’ when you need it, you help create a sane schedule for your children and gain deserved time for yourself.

6. Appropriate use of ‘no’ teaches critical life skills. Saying ‘no’ teaches children how to prioritize, balance their obligations, and remain calm in the face of stress.

7. Saying NO helps instill your beliefs and values…and reduces parental worry. Your young teen wants to go on a weekend-long co-ed ski club trip or spend the night at a friend’s house. You know that there might be minimal supervision. When your gut says ‘no’, take the opportunity to explain your feelings and reservations.

8. Remember, it is your parental right to say ‘no’. A strong ‘no’ said while looking your child right in the eye sets limits and underscores that you mean what you say.

9. Park your guilt. As adults, your child will find something other than your refusals to fault you for. Guaranteed, your child will keep hounding, but she will focus on something much more significant than your saying ‘no’ to taking over her school’s fundraiser, or allowing her to play on the traveling soccer team, to fault you for later in her life.

10. Your children may even thank you for teaching them by your example of how to say ‘no’. It’s an indispensable ability that will apply to every aspect of their lives as they grow, and is sure to be a powerful weapon in their future successes.

For more on how to say NO to your children, friends, family and at work, see:

SUSAN NEWMAN, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author of ‘The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever’ (McGraw-Hill), ‘Parenting an Only Child, The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only’ (Broadway/Doubleday), and ‘Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day‘ (Random House/Crown), among others. See: