Creating a yes environment means setting your child up for success each and every day. It means shifting your words, your home and even the way you think to help them succeed.
Many of us really got this when our kids were tiny. We made countless adaptations for our babies because we didn't expect them to make adaptations for us. As they grew older however many of us lost track of the importance of this simple action. When baby became child we suddenly expected them to adapt their behavior to fit our needs rather than the other way around.
But we can get to a place where there is more harmony, more joy, and less struggle. And all of the steps we are practicing in this journey are a part of that process. Creating a yes environment is the next step. It takes patience, but hey, so does weathering a tantrum. And patience of this sort is the kind I'm game for practicing everyday. Because it transforms me as well.
A yes environment is not permissive parenting. Permissive parenting (or letting your child do almost anything they want) does not create safety for your child. Instead a yes environment is simply providing a clear, safe space (both physical and non-physical) in which your child may have the freedom they need to thrive. There are boundaries to be sure, but we communicate them with kindness, love, and understanding.
A yes environment is multi-layered. It is in the physical space of your home and also your thoughts and words as a parent. It is about creating an environment and family culture where your child will have more freedom to explore and play and learn – and be a kid – with fewer corrections from you.
I have broken down creating a yes environment into three categories: Home, Mindset, and Vocabulary. Make progress (bit by bit) in these categories over the coming days and see what transforms.
A Yes Home
A yes home will be free of many of the temptations that are likely to cause conflicts between parent and child. For a baby it means fragile items kept up and away from little hands and the stairs are blocked by a gate when a grown-up is not nearby. It also means that the gate sometimes comes down when the toddler wants to explore the stairs with an adult beside them. A yes environment means rearranging the kitchen cupboards to allow the toddler to have one to empty out and explore (plastic containers, wooden spoons, pots and pans) and the others secured with cabinet locks to keep baby safe. A yes environment means doing the work to find a way to help your child meet their needs for learning, exploration, and autonomy.
For kids a yes environment frequently comes down to out-of-sight, out-of-mind. There are no cookies on the kitchen counter at dinner time; no off-limits candy bowl on the entryway table. The television is stored in an out-of-the-way nook to keep from frequent requests to view. Mama's sewing shears are put up and away, while child-sized scissors are within reach for projects. It might mean a fence around a backyard to keep your little one from wandering, or clear boundaries of how far an older child may explore unsupervised.
A Yes Mindset
A yes mindset can change everything. It means that you decide how important that "no" really is. "No" flies out of our mouths as parents so readily, and I encourage you to pause and ask yourself if the next "no" really needs to be said. I find myself saying no often when I am trying to create safety, to reduce messes, and to feel like I am in control. But many of those no moments can be transformed. You'll still say no to your child, but a fraction of the times you do now. (And when you do say it, it will really matter.)
A yes mindset means:
Hurrying a little less. Can you take that detour on your walk past your child's favorite spot?
Can your child put on their own shoes and try and try again to tie their laces?
Can your four-year-old make the salad tonight and you help her slice tomatoes with a sharp knife?
Not if you are in a hurry. I find most of my super-stressful "no"-packed moments happen when I am hurrying. And sometimes I'm not even sure why I am in a hurry! (Habit?) Plan as much time as you can for your day-to-day activities to allow your child to explore their world and their skills, and practice your deep breathing skills while they do.
Cultivating flexibility a little more. Is there any reason he can't eat with a serving spoon and a toothpick tonight? It's pretty fun, and a little more fun is usually a good thing.
What will happen if she goes outside without her mittens in the snow or without her raincoat in the storm? She wont be harmed by it, she have some powerful/wonderful sensory experiences, and she'll know why to take her mittens next time if she's bothered by the cold.
If your toddler love ripping pages in books, keep only board books within her reach and read together the books with paper pages. When she has the urge to rip, provide her with an old magazine to tear instead. No, a stack of old torn magazines wasn't in your ideal picture of a quaint playroom, but it meets her need while protecting your books. Why not do it?
Do you experience grocery-store drama? Allow your child or children to choose one healthy treat that is not on your list. You and the child must agree on the item and will keep searching until you find the perfect food. In the meantime, you'll get your shopping done. We brought home a coconut last week and a mango yesterday as a part of this plan. No, I didn't necessarily want a mango (or a coconut!), but now we have Mango Lassis on the breakfast menu tomorrow and the kids are thrilled. (And no one asked for chocolate chips, ice cream, or cereal.)
Shaking off fear of judgement. My daughter picked out a black and yellow fluffy bumble bee tutu as an "everyday dress" for the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair last year. I paused, and then smiled and packed it into her bag. She buzzed around that fair for one whole day, and captivated 99% of the crowd. My mom was amazed and impressed that I didn't veto the outfit, but really – why? There was no harm once I shook off the fear of being judged. And frankly, it was so perfectly Lupine.
A Yes Vocabulary
Lastly, finding the best-feeling words can make all of the difference. Sometimes a "No" becomes a "Yes" simply by the language you choose. Here are a few examples.
Your toddler is helping you clean up the floor. Suddenly sweeping turns to high-sticking and they are running through the kitchen, broom in the air, swinging wildly. The (indeed, logical) "no" response sounds something like this: "No swinging the broom! Put it down or you're done sweeping. You could break something!"
The "yes" response transforms this age-appropriate decision to high-stick more gently and effectively as the parent moves quickly towards the child to guide them into a more appropriate choice. "We sweep with our broom. There are some crumbs. Let's sweep them up!" The parents hands guide the broom to the floor and into sweeping mode once more. The adult stays close to be sure the lesson was absorbed. If the swinging continues (also age-appropriate), the broom is peacefully swapped out for the dustpan or a hand broom and the clean up continues – together.
In another example, a child is moving towards the road unsupervised. The (again, logical) "no" response could be: "Stop! No road! The road is dangerous. You could get hurt!"
The "yes" response (as the adult runs quickly to the child's side) is: "Sophie! Do you see the cars? Would you like to cross the street? We'll do it together, holding hands. Are there any cars this way?"
A yes vocabulary does not mean that your child can do what ever they want. It means we cultivate patience for the age and stage of their development, and we nurture the child and the needs.
Look into your days and identify the most stressful moments. Transitions, meals, and bedtime come up for many. Now evaluate how often your child hears "no" during these moments, and see what can be transformed through the changes outlined above.
As we practice finding more "yes" moments and fewer "no" moments, our children will respond. They will feel their expanding safety, autonomy, and freedom and move with more ease and grace into the space. Sure, there will still be "no"s. But using validation you will navigate these more rare moments with more ease and grace as well.
P.S. If you missed the rest of the series, here are links to each post.