As a parent, you end up having to say, “No,” a lot. You feel like the bad guy. Your kids complain, “You’re not fair!” and “You’re mean!” After a while, you ask yourself, “What’s the use?” and you just throw up your hands in despair and give in. You feel defeated and your children revel in your failure to stand your ground. How on earth do you get out of this vicious cycle? The answer is to stop saying, “No” so much and switch to “Yes, if” and “Yes, when.”
It’s 6:00 p.m. You’re tired, you’re hungry, and the kids want you to go supervise them at the pool. “No” is out of your mouth before you can even think about it and your kids begin the wailing that will destroy your resolve and end up with everyone at the pool in about 25 minutes. Instead of saying, “No,” think about the real reason that you want to say, “No.” The real reason is that you are tired and you still have to get dinner ready and you only have enough energy to do one thing, either make dinner or watch them at the pool, but not both, and you know you must make the dinner, so you say, “No,” to the pool. Instead of “No,” you can use, “Yes, if” as in, “Yes, if you make 3 sandwiches now, one for you, one for me, and one for your brother.” If your child starts to complain, just remain calm and let them know that it’s completely up to them. You’d love to go watch them at the pool, but you cannot until they make the sandwiches. The ball is in their court and if they decide to make the sandwiches, your problem is solved and you can go watch them at the pool. If not, you will need to make dinner, but you don’t have to watch them at the pool because they chose not to have you do that by their refusal to make the sandwiches.
You have a 13 year-old daughter that wants to stay by her friend’s house this weekend. She asks on Wednesday and you instantly say, “no,” because her room is a mess. She begins to beg and plead and promise to do better and eventually you give in and she goes on about her business, leaving you exhausted from the struggle. Well, it just doesn’t have to be that way. Tell her, “Yes, of course you can go by your friend’s house, just as soon as you make your bed three days in a row.” That’s a “Yes, when.” You are not saying anything vague like she has to be more mature or more responsible and you are not giving her anything that’s open to various interpretations, the bed is either made or it is not made and she can stay at a friend’s house just as soon as she makes the bed three days in a row. Now it’s up to her if she wants to go to the friend’s house or not and you have not said, “no.” When the weekend comes and she has not made her bed three days in a row, you still aren’t saying, “no.” You just remind her that she can certainly go as soon as she’s made her bed three days in a row and let her know how many days she’s already got in. Does she need to do it one more time, twice, or three times to get to stay by the friend? Just let her know and leave it up to her to earn the privilege.
Try that over the next few weeks. When you feel most compelled to say, “no,” see if you can’t rephrase it into a “Yes, if,” or a “Yes, when.” You won’t be the bad guy so much anymore!