Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Look who's talking!

A while ago I was having a conversation with a friend about her car radio breaking. She was complaining about not being able to hear traffic and news and just her poor excuse for a car in general. Then she paused. ‘You know,’ she said, ‘I do talk to my kids a lot more in the car now that our other alternative is silence.’

This made me think: Does this happen a lot? And why have we stopped talking to our kids while we’re in the car?  The commute to school/karate/ballet class/church/the grocery store is the perfect venue for talking (and listening) to our children. Especially for toddlers and preschoolers, having conversations with adults is important because it teaches (and gives an outlet for practicing) two important rules of conversation:

  • Question and answers – As adults, we instinctively know how this dance goes. One person asks a question, the other answers. Babies first begin to learn this when an adult asks a question they already know the answer to (“What color is this?”) and then answers it for the child (“Green!”). As children get older, they can answer questions and learn to ask other questions through practicing conversation.
  • Turn taking – I think all parents will agree that this is an important skill and the basis of learning to share. It also shows up when we talk with others. We all have the friend who (bless her heart) never learned this skill and talks your ear off while you nod along and your eyes glaze over. By practicing conversation with your kiddo, you are teaching him that the best communication happens when both people have a chance to talk.

Here are some simple ways to get the conversation going while you’re on the go:

  1. Ask open-ended questions – about your child’s preferences, thoughts, or activities. This seems common sense but often, with children, we ask questions that can be answered in one word because we know they can (and usually will) answer. Start with these:
·      Tell me about…
·      How do you think we could…
·      What do you think of…

  1. Notice rather than give your opinion – When you remark on something about your child and leave your opinion ambiguous, it encourages your child to expand on what you’ve said. Think about it. It works with adults, too. If someone says to me, ‘I love your blog!’ I will likely reply, ‘Thanks!’ But if someone says, ‘I visited your blog. I see that you post every day,’ I will probably reply in a way that gives more information and keeps the conversation, ‘I’m so glad you visited. I just have so many ideas to get out and writing is a great creative outlet for me.’ Instead of:
·      Did you have fun at dance class?
·      Did you see that Friday is Splash Day at school?
·      I like the pictures you drew!

·      I noticed that you had a big smile on your face when you left dance class today...
·      I saw that something special is happening at school on Friday…
·      I noticed that you used markers instead of crayons on your art…

Not only will such conversations with your kids improve their conversational skills, but also: What better way to show your kids that you love and care about them and their opinions than by encouraging them to talk and really listening when they do?

I challenge you to switch the radio OFF next time you get in the car. Can you do it?

What do you like to talk to your kids about? Leave a comment!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Avant Garde Parent of the Week: Snapshot from an Attachment Parent

This is Heather. Not only is she the mom of two precious girls, a member of a community dance group, and active in her church, but she is also an uh-maze-ing photographer  (Look at the title of her post- get it?!). Can you say SuperMom??? Heather Attachment Parents her two girls, so I asked her to write about how AP works in her family life. Enjoy and leave Heather some love in the comments! 

When Jamie asked me to write a guest post about attachment parenting I hesitated, because I’m not an expert on the subject, and I’m not perfect…but I finally decided what I could do was share a snapshot of my life as I attachment parent. I can’t promise a professional portrait all polished and beautiful, but I’ll try to do the subject as much justice as I can…

Heather wearing her daughter
Before I go any further, I should explain what I mean by attachment parenting. To me, it’s kind of like viewing your relationship with your child as a duet…being in unity, harmonizing with her.  You’re the stronger partner, so you’re the one doing all the lifts and helping her balance, but it’s a collaborative effort. Dr. Sears has a number of really wonderful articles on the subject that give slightly more down to earth explanations. ;)

I began attachment parenting long before I knew there was a name for it. I’m pretty sure the first conscious choice I made to attachment parent was when my first baby was less than 2 weeks old and my husband and I sat down to watch a movie together.  She was asleep so I set her down, but within about 5 minutes of being away from her I didn’t feel right not having her in my arms when there was no good reason she couldn’t be. I went and picked her up and all 3 of us cuddled as we watched the movie. It felt so right and wonderful to just be physically connected to her.

I instinctively used a number of the attachment tools Dr. Sears describes, nursing on cue, responding sensitively, and carrying her. I didn’t get a good baby carrier until she was 5 months old, and I didn’t realize that co-sleeping is not unsafe until she was about 10 months old, so I got to discover the joys of doing those things with a newborn with my second baby.  Most importantly, I grew to be in tune with both of my children and I refuse to listen to anything that isn’t what I know is best for them and for our family (though, whenever obstacles come up that I’m not sure how to get around, I read, seek advice, and try things that I feel might be good options).

Now, if you took a look at Dr. Sears’ website, you probably noticed that it talks a lot about babies, and a little about toddlers…but this is a blog about preschoolers, so I’d like to take a second and talk about a few practical things I do to continue attachment parenting my 3 year old.
One thing that is probably slightly unconventional but that we both LOVE, is continuing to wear her. There are mornings when she wakes up and really wants me to hold her but I want to get coffee made and need to cut some grapes for my 9 month old to munch on, so letting her ride on my back in a carrier works perfectly. 

She’s quite independent now.  She’ll run off to the other side of the park to play with her friends, or even excitedly go stay at her grandparents for a week at a time, but she also likes to reconnect a lot. It’s her strong connection to me that provides her the security to explore her independence. The main way she reconnects is with physical touch. She’ll sit in my lap while I read to her, hold my hand while we’re sitting at our desks that are side by side, or I’ll simply rest my hand on her shoulder as I’m standing behind her watching her paint. And possibly most beneficial to her of all, we close every night by me or my husband rubbing her back as she falls asleep, and start almost every morning by cuddling in bed for 10 to 20 minutes before we get up.

Heather nursing baby
Another way I connect with her is really more of a way of thinking…Alfie Kohn describes it in Unconditional Parenting as working with your child rather than doing something to your child. So, for example, my preschooler LOVES to swim…and doesn’t like to leave the swimming pool. I could tell her she has to leave and punish her if she doesn’t, and then when we got home I would have a very unhappy child to deal with…but instead, I choose to work with her to help her be able to say goodbye peacefully. I make sure that we do swim as often as possible so that she always knows we’ll be back soon. I give her frequent notices that we’ll have to leave soon once it gets near time to go. I make sure she knows what enjoyable activity we’re leaving the pool to go do. When there are 10 seconds left we count to 10 together (happily, not in a stern or threatening way).  And finally we say goodbye to the swimming pool, the fountain, and the hot tub. None of those things take very much effort from me, but they help her leave happily and easily move on to what we need to do next.

Finally, I just ENJOY having two awesome girls and spending time with them! I don’t think of parenting as enforcing rules, laying down the law, or dictating ordinances. And you want to know a secret? I don’t necessarily even think of it as teaching in the traditional sense, either. As I attachment parent, I’m really just focusing on my relationship with my children, loving them and being caring and compassionate. Along the way, I teach…mostly by doing, and almost always while having fun. Occasionally I have to enforce rules, but here’s another secret…when I’m more busy playing with my girls than worrying about a bunch of rules, the rules that are important aren’t that hard to enforce.

I encourage you to come up with one way you can connect with your child today, and do it! 

More information on Attachment Parenting can be found at http://www.attachmentparenting.org/ Read more...

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Said to a 3ish little girl by mom on the way into Toys'R'Us:

"It's your birthday and you can pick out whatever you want."

How happy was this kid???!!! I'll tell you: she SQUEALED with delight. I personally think that a child's happy squealing sound is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. Pure joy :)


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Thought for the weekend

"It is usually assumed that children who aren't made to obey their parents will grow to be unruly, disrespectful, and 'out of control'. Nothing could be further from the truth. Children who are treated with respect are respectful of others. Children who are listened to as equals listen to others as equals. Children whose opinions are valued value others' opinions. A family where parents and children are allies is a peaceful family."
-Rue Kream

One of my favorites. Happy Saturday!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Coming up and what I'm doing this weekend

Get excited! Starting Monday, AGP will be featuring one super-parent each week in Avant Garde Parent of the Week. Mommies and daddies with children of all different ages will be highlighted for the wonderful job they do as a parent, as well as the many other hats they wear in their lives.

Do you know someone who deserves to be 'Avant Garde Parent of the Week?' Nominate someone (or yourself- no one's judging here) by leaving a comment or emailing me at deluna.jamie@gmail.com.

In other news...this weekend I'm filming my entry for this. It's the 2010 'Dance your PhD' contest. You literally dance out the story of your dissertation. AND, there are no entries in the social science category, so I felt it was my duty to represent. And husby has a film degree, so we're taking this seriously. We story boarded it.

What's a dissertation? And what was mine about? I'm glad you asked. Academics love talking about themselves. When you sign up to get your PhD (Permanent Head Damage), you have to take a bunch of classes and teach a bunch of classes and do a bunch of research. Then, the last thing you do is the dissertation. If you're in a science related field, this means you come up with an original research project, do it, and write about for 90+ pages. 

Mine was about attachmentmaternal sensitivity, and children's autonomy, which kind of means their independence. The dance of it will include the following: moving (and thus actually vacuuming under) the sofa so I will have somewhere to dance, me dressing like a toddler, and convincing my friends to dance some choreography while holding text books.

So, after you write your dissertation, you have to defend it, meaning you present it to the faculty and students and everyone asks you really hard questions and makes you sweat and cry. I'll have to write about my defense in another post, but I can tell you that it involved:

  1. Me panicking because my computer screen would not show up on the projector. I called Tech Services and they sent three people who correctly diagnosed the problem as a failure on my part to plug in the computer. 
  2. A student from the audience correctly answering a faculty member's question to which I first replied, "I am not sure what you're talking about."
  3. An outside chairperson (emcee/facilitator/faculty member from another department) who had a Rollie Fingers mustache and was hard of hearing, so he shouted all of his 759 questions at me (I'm still convinced that he was part an elaborate practical joke/sketch comedy bit of which I was the butt).
After all of that, I leave the room and the faculty vote on whether or not I get to be a thinking doctor. Then, Jeff Probst comes and gets me and tells me that the tribe has spoken. To be honest, when the tribe said, "Congratulations, Doctor," I almost replied, "Are you sure?" But I just smiled, thanked them, went home and ate an entire order of chips and queso AND two tacos from here and slept for 16 hours because I was exhausted.

I promise I'll post the dance video when it's finished. You promise me that you'll watch it and give me points for effort even if it's not good. Read more...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

AGP on the Web: Loving your child

I'm super excited because one of my posts got published on Loving Your Child!

Loving Your Child is a wonderful blog that I read daily. It has tons of articles that cover every parenting topic you can think of - child health, behavior, parenting styles, and even reviews of classic children's stories and movies. It also has a great page with links to lots of resources for parents. The blog is geared toward Indian parents and families, but ANY parent can (and will) benefit from it.

Head on over there. Here's the link to my post, but trust me, you will get sucked in and spend hours reading all Loving Your Child has to offer! Read more...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kid friendly food: French bread calzones

I got this recipe from my bestie, who is a fabulous amazing cook and baker (she makes Food Network caliber cakes and pastries. Food Network, if you're reading this, seriously, she's talented, pretty, AND funny- totally tv material). 

Anywho, I have to admit, this recipe isn't the healthiest, but it IS good for the soul. I do, however, try to make it healthier by using lowfat mozzarella and turkey pepperoni. It's delish and it's my husby's favorite meal I cook. Which might tell you something about my cooking. We're still newlyweds. I'm working on it.

Here's what you need: One can of Pillsbury french bread (I like Italian but it's hard to find), mozzarella cheese, pepperoni (or whatever toppings you want), a little butter, Italian seasoning, and garlic bread sprinkle (or garlic powder). You'll also need pizza or marinara sauce for dipping.

What I LOVE about these ingredients is that two of them (the spices) are things I always have on hand, three of them are things I used in recipes earlier in the week (pizza sauce, pepperoni, and mozzarella - homemade pizza on Monday, Spaghetti and meatballs on Tuesday - and we're not even Italian!), and ONLY ONE of them is specific to this recipe (the French bread - and I had a coupon).

Okay. Now, roll out the bread on wax paper. Cut it into halves and spread a little bit of butter in the center. Sprinkle on Italian seasoning and garlic bread sprinkle. Let your kiddos top with cheese, pepperoni, whatever other toppings you have, and more cheese.

Now fold them on up (long sides in first, ends last) and slap 'em on a baking sheet. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes (9 if you're using my manic oven on speed). Put some sauce in a bowl, let those suckers cool off, and Mangia!
Note: This makes two adult-sized calzones. If you have more than a few kiddos or are including the adults in this, as well, buy more bread. There's usually a coupon for purchasing two or more cans :)

What are your favorite kid friendly recipes? Do you have one I can feature?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cheap fun: Art

Art projects are such a great way for kids to explore. Working with different supplies encourages creativity and imagination, learning about colors and how they mix, and sensory exploration. However, lots of time art supplies are super expensive. Here are some fun and cheap ideas for art enjoyment with your preschooler:
  • Use old toothbrushes as paintbrushes. Different bristles will make different paint stroke types and your child will love using this common household item in a new way.
  • Pipe cleaners are so versatile and can be bought in bulk very inexpensively. Practice making letters, numbers, and shapes with them.
  • Turn an old shoebox into a diorama - of animals, planets, or the jungle! Use stickers, paper, and pipe cleaners! Shoeboxes can also become great dollhouses.
  • Paint pasta! Using plastic sandwich bags and watercolors (food coloring also works), make a rainbow of macaroni, mini shells, or whatever kind of pasta you have in your pantry. Then sort it by color or make a pasta masterpiece by gluing on paper.
  • Empty toilet paper rolls (or paper towel rolls) can easily become kaleidoscopes, snakes, telescopes, inchworms, magic wands, or kazoos!
  • Paper plates can be a lesson on time (clock), seasons (divide into fourths), or just about anything your imagination can dream up!
  • Fill an ice cube tray with water and a little food coloring. Then, put a piece of paper into a baking pan (I like to use the big aluminum ones made to cook turkeys in) and have fun ice cube painting!
  • Finally, my favorite: construction paper. Construction paper, like pipe cleaners, can be used for so many activities and is cheap when purchased in bulk. Want a set of jungle animals? Cut them out. Need a set of letters/numbers? Cut them out. Making holiday ornaments? Cut out snowflakes! Love reading? Make a book!
Extra tip: Do you have tons of old, way too big T-shirts lying around? I do. Use them as dedicated 'art towels,' since the best (and most fun) art is always messy :)

Do you have other cheap, fun art ideas? Please leave a comment!!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


“Oh sweetie, I know it’s disappointing, but it’s just not a movie. It only plays sound.” 

– said by mom to crying toddler in front of the nature cd demonstrator thing at WalMart

This one made me smile :)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Thought for the weekend

"Teach children what to think and you limit them to your ideas. Teach children how to think and their ideas are unlimited."

- Sandra Parks

Have a great weekend! 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Playtime- it's a science!

One of the coolest things about my work is that I get to observe parents and preschoolers every day. More specifically, I watch videos of mothers and their children playing together and look for different behaviors and qualities. Then, we take those qualities, give them numbers, and see how they relate to other parts of the child’s life (e.g., verbal development, behavior problems).

One specific aspect we examine is what we call maternal sensitivity. It has to do with how in-tune to the child the mother is and it manifests in lots of ways. For example, a very sensitive mother usually won’t insist that their child play with toys in a certain way and will even embrace the ‘new’ way her child approaches a toy. So, for instance, when her child decides to ‘cook’ the blocks in the play oven, a sensitive mom might remark, “Oh, I see you’re pretending that the blocks are food! What delicious meal are you making?” This not only allows the child her own creativity and independence to express herself, but it also encourages interaction and imagination.

Another way moms can be sensitive and in-tune with their children during playtime is by letting the child take the lead, or being ‘child-centered.’ Being child-centered is in contrast to being adult-centered. Think of it this way: playtime isn’t about you. It’s about your child or, better yet, the relationship between you and your child. A child-centered mom allows her child to influence the pace of play, but can tell when her child needs support (steadying a toy so that the child can manipulate it) or redirection (getting bored and moving to another toy/activity).

A different construct we look at is called cognitive stimulation. Cognitive stimulation fosters healthy child development and is even related to outcomes like grades and obesity! So, what is it? Stimulation for preschool children starts with a goal of teaching. The goal can be accomplished in lots of ways: labeling objects or pictures in a book, having the child label, demonstrating how tools and toys are used, or even just commenting on what the child is doing in a descriptive way (“I see you’re using the green hammer to hammer the blue nail.”). Other ways to stimulate your child can be much more imaginative- encourage pretend play by pretending with your preschooler or create a story as you play. Try to balance learning and having fun!

This is just a small glimpse into what I get to do on a daily basis and what we look at when we watch moms and kids play. Want to know more about how to make the most out of playtime? I highly suggest The Ready Method.

P.S. One group of researchers thinks playtime is so important (and it is!) that they’ve created what they call the Ultimate Block Party

Happy playtime!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

3 Ways to Occupy Your Child at the Grocery Store Check-Out

3. Play 'I Spy...' - I'm fairly certain this game single handedly kept me from breaking every piece of equipment in the doctor's office and kept my mother sane (although, it may have driven her INsane; I remember her being so sick of playing it by the time I was 7 or 8). The game goes like this: "I spy...something [color/shape]." Then, the other person guesses what it is. Take turns and this could keep your child entertained forever. Even very young children will enjoy trying to guess what you are 'spying.' You can make the game more difficult for older children (e.g., "I spy...something whose name begins with the letter S"). Not only is this game fun, but teaches your child turn-taking and keeps her brain active.

2. Sort items in your cart - Many preschoolers love to sort things- by color/shape/category/size/you name it. Have your child sit in the cart and sort your items according to different categories. Too easy for your child? Set the timer on your phone (or just count) and see if he can do it in under 30/20/15 seconds. This game encourages the use of fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and quick thinking.

1. Play 'Simon Says' - This game usually ends with all parties involved erupting in giggles. If your child is sitting in the cart, use your groceries, too ("Simon says touch the rice"). This game helps your child learn attention shifting: paying attention to the correct rule ('Simon says...'), and not paying attention to the incorrect rule ('Touch...' without 'Simon says...'). Is your child too young to understand the concept of 'Simon didn't say!"? Eliminate Simon all together and just have your child touch different items/body parts ("Touch your head. Touch the cereal.").

I hope these ideas provide you with some useful tools for your next mile-long WalMart line- because you know that, even though they have 37 checkout stands, only 2 will be open at any given time :) Read more...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I was recently reminded of a very important lesson:

Different things work for different parents.

So while I dole out advice, ideas, and research that may be helpful to you as a parent (and I hope they are helpful), it certainly isn't parenting gospel and it very well may not work for your family.

When I was in college, I worked with children who have attachment difficulties and their parents (what's attachment,  you ask? Read about it here). The directors of our project had the following mantra, which, as a parenting researcher, I LOVE:

Parents generally: know their children better than anyone else, want the very best for their children, and are doing the absolute best they can.

This is so true and I remind myself of this every time someone asks me for parenting tips or advice.

My bestie recently gave birth to a precious, adorable, snuggly baby boy. She has commented to me more than once that she could read all the baby books in the world, but at the end of the day, she has to figure out what works for her and Baby P, whether it's in the books or not.

I think this is true of preschoolers, too. Preschoolers are all different and parents are all different. My advice? Read all you can about parenting. Arm yourself with lots of tools and ideas. But in the end- do what works for you and your child. Don't let someone (expert or not) make you feel bad or make you feel like you're not doing a good job. You are.

Repeat the following to yourself at least once a day: I am the best parent for my child. Read more...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Five Ways to a happy, peaceful grocery shopping trip with your preschooler

1. Give your child a list. Make it short and easy to remember, especially if your child isn’t sight-reading yet. Give your child familiar items to find while he rides in the cart (or walks with you). This will keep him occupied and give him a sense of accomplishment when he completes the list!

2. Make behavioral expectations clear before you get to the store. By clearly telling your child exactly what kind of behavior is appropriate for your destination (e.g., whisper voice, walking feet) before you get there, you decrease your chances of having to correct behavior while in the store- and this decreases the odds of yelling, crying, and meltdowns! Tell your child before you even leave the house, then give her reminders in the car and as you’re walking in: “Remember: we use our whisper voice inside this store. Can you practice by whispering your name?”

3. Make a game out of it. Preschoolers love labeling colors and counting. Take advantage of this by letting your child choose a ‘color of the day’ then counting the number of item he finds in the store of that color. Not only will this keep your preschooler occupied while you shop, but it will also be good for his brain!

4. Be flexible. Think about your shopping trip in terms of not only how it can be productive for you but also how it can be enjoyable for your child. Spend some time on the toy aisle. Let your child choose the brand on some items. Give your child choices on what she might ‘feel like’ for dinner tonight and then purchase the ingredients together.

5. It’s all in the marketing. Children look to parents for cues about how to act and feel. If you are frustrated and in a hurry, your child will also be frustrated. If you are excited about grocery shopping, your child will likely also be excited. So approach your shopping trip with excitement and enthusiasm!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Attachment – say what?

Attachment was/is my first Psychology love (how cheesy is that?). I remember hearing about the concept and being just enthralled and reading everything I could get my hands on regarding this fabulous phenomenon.

So what is it? Well, attachment in this case refers to the special bond between a parent and child.  As researchers, we think of a child’s attachment to his parent on a semi-continuum of secure/insecure. Secure, of course, is the kind you want. It’s linked with lots of good things like better social skills and closer parent-child relationships. A secure attachment relationship provides a child with feelings of safety, love, and support

Before I tell you more about attachment, listen to me and repeat to yourself: Most children are securely attached to their parents. (Often when I explain attachment to others, they become quite worried that their own child is insecurely attached and doomed for life. 1. Your child is probably not insecure and 2. Even if she is, she would NOT be doomed for life).


1. Attachment first starts to develop at around 8-9 months. Ever notice how, at just about this age, your baby starts crying when you leave the room? That’s the attachment system kicking in. J It’s a good thing, I promise.

2. Secure attachment is thought to result from parents who consistently respond to their child’s needs. Does this mean that if you sometimes don’t hear your baby cry or are slow to respond because you are cooking dinner/in the shower/living your life that he will somehow realize that you are the worst mother ever and develop an insecure attachment? Probably. Just kidding. Of course not! Consistent responding just means that you have developed a pattern with your baby and he knows that you will sooth him when he is upset. MOST PARENTS DO THIS NATURALLY.

3. A securely attached child may look like this:
  • Cries/becomes upset when you leave the room
  • Easily calms when you return
  • Looks to you/runs to you when in the presence of a stranger (Ever said ‘hi’ to a kiddo in the grocery store and he immediately looks at mom and puts a hand on her? Attachment system J)
  • Easily able to play at a distance from you in new places (mall play area, classroom, friend’s house)
  • Calmed more easily by mom/dad (not other adults or strangers) when upset

4. Important: Securely attached children don’t all fit this mold. Securely attached kids come in all varieties- shy, outgoing, vocal, reserved, easily upset, mellow, you name it.

5. Simple ways to foster a secure attachment relationship with your child:
  • Respond to your child in a gentle, caring way. Research shows that sensitive responsiveness is associated with the development of secure attachments.
  • Use emotion words. Describing how you feel in terms of emotions (happy, sad, frustrated, etc.) helps your child learn to build emotional bonds with others by connecting on a deeper level.
  • Spend quality time together. Share a book, play dress up, or make up a story rather than watch television of play video games together. Experiences that require both people to be engaged encourage bonding and learning about each other.
  • Practice ‘trust’ activities. Feeding each other or rub lotion on each other’s hands. Such activities encourage trust and help parent and child be ‘in-tune’ with the other.

This is, of course, a very basic introduction to attachment. More information can be found here:

Note: Attachment theory, while similar to, is different from attachment parenting. That’s another post for another day.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The case for 'yes'

All too often I hear parents remark on how much their preschooler uses the word ‘no.’ “She says ‘no’ to everything! She takes hard-headed to a new level!” or “I think the only word he knows is ‘no!’”  and in the same breath, parents also remark on how their little one “repeats everything I say- you have to be so careful!” Interesting, isn’t it, how clear the connection seems in writing but not in practice? Preschoolers say ‘no’ because they hear ‘no.’

At an age in which the transition from the helplessness of being a baby to the stark realization that the self is an independent human separate from mommy is, at best, abrupt, I think our kids need to hear ‘yes’ more. It’s time that we, as parents, evaluate why exactly we say ‘no’ as much as we do.

Maybe it’s habit. Toddlers and preschoolers have endless energy and seem to get into everything they physically can. Perhaps we are so used to saying no (“No, honey, you can’t fill the bathtub up with your spaghetti” “No, you can’t wear your swimsuit to school when it’s snowing outside”) that it becomes an automatic response rather than a well-thought reply.

Or maybe our ‘no’s’ have more selfish undertones. After all, filling pots and pans with water then throwing giant play-doh balls into them does not lend itself to the quiet, clean household most of us desire.

Whatever the reason, the truth is that ‘no’ often stifles a child’s ability to make real decisions that affect his or her life. In order to help children become independent adults, we must allow them to (gulp) make both wrong and right decisions, for this is how they learn.

I challenge parents to start saying ‘yes.’ Yes, you can sleep with all 74 of your stuffed animals on your bed. Yes, you can wear your sweatshirt inside out if the tag bothers you. Yes, you can absolutely have carrots with your breakfast and cereal with your dinner. By not automatically refusing an idea that, to us as adults seems silly or ‘wrong’, we not only empower our children to make their own decisions but also let them know that we support and respect them as people.

One of the best real life examples of a parent saying ‘yes’ is seeing a child at the grocery store wearing his or her Halloween costume when Halloween was months ago. Why not? Instead of “no, we don’t wear Halloween costumes when it’s not Halloween,” what’s the harm in “how did you ever come up with such a creative way to get more use out of the costume I made for you? You will probably have grown out of it by next Halloween, so I’m glad you have the chance to wear it again!”?

Of course, there are times when we must tell children ‘no’ (e.g., when safety is a risk). However, most of the time a ‘no’ can become a ‘yes.’ Think of it this way: instead of sharing with a child what he can’t do, try communicating what he can do:

Instead of
  • Don’t paint on the wall
  • Don’t skateboard in the street
  • Don’t throw the ball in the house
  • Paints are for paper
  • I’m happy to move the cars out of the garage so you can skateboard there
  • I’d love to throw the ball with you in the backyard
Giving children real options and letting them choose what best suits their needs in situations like these not only saves us the time and frustration of, say, cleaning paint off the walls, but it also allows children to feel like their opinions matter (and they do matter!).

I suspect that children whose parents respect them as people and allow them to have a say in their life decisions will be more compliant when a parent does say no, because the child will know that your use of ‘no’ is not indiscriminant or meaningless.

Next time, before you say ‘no’ to a request your child has made, ask yourself why. Will it put my child or others in danger? Do I have a substantial reason to say ‘no’? If not, I challenge you to say ‘yes’! 

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