Steven M. Gentry, utahvalley360.com
God’s decision to put parents in charge of kids has, contrary to popular kid opinion, proved to be a pretty good idea.
We have a big say concerning the what, how, where, when, and with whom of our children’s actions. On the whole, I think us parents are pretty good at our job.
In their early years, children learn not to eat dirt, pick up kitty by the tail, pour grape juice in the CD player, or cut off Barbie’s hair. As they grow from infant to toddler to school-aged child, their world of “don’t touch” and “that’s a no-no” gradually changes from one of near constant denial and redirection to one which offers a wide range of experiences.
Or at least it should.
Some parents seem to struggle with their children’s ever increasing need to actively explore their world. These parents remain stuck in the “no’s” of infancy.
Perhaps they worry that saying “yes” constitutes indulgence and will ultimately lead to a spoiled child; others want to protect their children from harm’s way, at all costs; and some simply tire of the numerous petitions raised each day, finding it easiest to refuse them all.
Dr. James Dobson, renowned spokesman for Focus on the Family, has stated that some parents develop a habit of saying “no,” often before the child can even verbalize his request. He continues: “This knee-jerk negativism is irritating for the child and unduly restrictive to him. He deserves the right to a fair hearing based on the merits of each particular request.”
Dr. Dobson concludes by saying that parents should say “yes” to their child unless there is a better reason to deny their request.
The foregoing comments should not be taken to mean that children should get everything they want. Every child needs to learn that he can’t have everything he wants, and needs to learn to accept “no” when there is good cause. However, I concur with Dr. Dobson’s statement that we should operate from an assumption of “yes” with our children, unless we have good reason to say “no.”
“Yes, you can hammer the boards behind the shed together … but don’t hammer them to the shed …Yes, you can go swimming with your friends … You’re homework’s done? Sure you can go to the park.”
“No, you can’t sleep over at Timmy’s; tomorrow’s a school day … No, Jake can’t come over. He doesn’t do his part to clean up the messes he makes … I’ll take you to the mall as soon as your chores are done.”
I’m a big believer in ample opportunities for play and free time for children, contingent on their willingness to follow through with reasonable expectations (e.g., doing a few household chores, upholding certain standards of behavior, completing homework, etc.). Clearly, children should lose privileges when they fail to follow through with assigned responsibilities. Likewise, they should be rewarded when they do what is asked of them.
Since childhood sets the tone for how the child views himself, others, and the world, he needs to take full advantage of the many opportunities childhood offers. For children, play — often top on the list of desired activities — is the primary work of childhood; it is the medium through which children learn about themselves and others. It is the vehicle they use to express what they cannot say. Work, too, is essential, as children need to learn individual responsibility, that helping out around home is a vital part of family life.
When we say “yes” to reasonable requests, we give our children the chance to grow. When we habitually say “no,” or do so without good cause, we deny them opportunities to fully enjoy the exuberance and carefree pleasures of childhood.
So next time your child asks if he can take a bath with the dog … or when she asks to stay up until 10:30 p.m. to finish watching her Friday night video … or if your children want you to run with them in the pouring rain … make God look like the genius He is for putting us big people in charge. Consider saying yes.
Steven M. Gentry, Ph.D., is a Child & Family Psychologist and the Executive Director of the Child Evaluation & Treatment Center and the Marriage & Family Relations Center.