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Yes You Can: The Three Words Your Kids Really Need to Hear

Can you imagine knowing the freedoms of adulthood and then going back to childhood where you have to ask permission for every morsel of food, or are given little choice in what you get to eat, where you are going that day, what chores you will be doing? Every activity is supervised and often scrutinized. “No, not like that.” “Don’t jump off that.” “Look up. Watch where you are going!” It’s really no wonder kids erupt from time to time with an epic Nooo, I don’t want to! tantrum or have demanding outbursts needing desperately to know why they can’t do or have something.

As a parent, it’s our job to keep our kids safe and healthy and with that comes a lot of “Nos” and “Be carefuls” and “Not right nows.” I can only imagine how tired kids must get of the rejection though. Of course, most of the time we have their best interest in mind, but still, each “no” to them comes with the same sting of rejection we would feel if told “No” after asking our boss for a raise, or our spouse for a date, or a friend for a favor. To them, their requests seem reasonable and the corresponding rejection is real.

Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.   ― Pablo Picasso

This is why I try to say “Yes” to my kids as much as I can, especially when it comes to activities around the house. If it won’t hurt them (too badly) or damage something precious to us (too badly), or get us too off schedule (because schedule is actually a prized possession in our family), and doesn’t cost anything, then it’s likely I’ll say “yes.”

Last week the water company was testing our fire hydrant. “Can I please play in it?” “Yes!”



“Can I play with your ingredients?” A question that makes me cringe, because gross and messy, but still I offer a “yes,” pulling out things like flour and noodles and veggies scraps and outdated spices, along with a few nonbreakable bowls, measuring cups and a wooden spoon.   

“Can I have ice cream for breakfast?” “Sure!” whipping up a batch of Banana Nut Soft Serve. Here’s my little secret just for you: Yeses are sometimes Nos in disguise of a Yes.  

“Can I use some of your shaving cream?” “Sure, why not… but not the razor.” (I do have standards people.)

“Can I turn our picnic table into a car wash (and flood the yard a little in the process)?” “Absolutely. Our yard needs watering anyway, right?” (In retrospect, this did destroy our picnic table umbrella, but it was on its last leg anyway.)


“Can I use your vacuum?” “All the yeses, and let me show you something really cool—the attachments can vacuum up dead flies on the windowsill. Awesome, right? Have fun!”

“Can I skate with your tupperware?” “I mean, now I’m just kind of curious, so have at it.”

“Can I make a rocket ship out of that big box in the garage?” “Rockets away, dude.”


“Will you play with me?” I’m not going to lie, this one is the toughest one for me to say yes to. What I want to say is “I don’t wannnnnt to! I want to sit here on my phone while you go play and let me veg out.” But I’m working on saying “yes” more to this one too. We played baseball and football in the backyard today per his request. I wanted so badly to say “no.” But honestly, it was a high point of our otherwise pretty routine day.  

Sometimes yeses need boundaries. “Yes, we can ride bikes after your room is clean.” “Yes, you can have a cookie after lunch.” “Yes you can paint after you clean up your kitchen creation from this morning.” “Yes, I will play with you for ten minutes.” It’s not all chaos around here….though it can feel like it some days. But when I think back on our most memorable days at home with my kids, the ones when I pushed down the urge to say “no” to a slightly inconvenient proposed project and said “yes” instead are some of my favorite.

Our little people have big ideas and they need the space and freedom and sometimes access to really random household supplies to work out these ideas. But so much more is at work when we say “yes” to their grand plans. They are growing in confidence, in problem solving, in persistence. They are discovering what makes them tick. And YES, they are having fun too!

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