At the moment, “no” is my toddler’s favourite word, even to the point where you ask him, “Is your favourite word ‘no’?” To which his emphatic 2-year-old reply is… you guessed it! I have been noticing recently that I say ‘no’ all the time. Sometimes it seems that NO is the only word that ever comes out of my mouth. My children make requests or set off in a particular direction and I reign them in with a firm ‘no’! Here are some examples:
Can we watch Cbeebies?
Not right now.
Can we have some chocolate?
Not before dinner.
Can we build a fire in this bucket?
Can we cut up the white sheets to make ghost costumes?
And so on.
The children don’t know it, but today I am having a yes day. A yes day is something I do every now and again when I’ve noticed that my attachment to the word “no” is raining on everyone’s parade. Let’s face it, no is boring, but saying yes is fun. Saying yes allows us to express our joyful curiosity about life. Saying yes enables us to be like our children (apart from Aidan, who seems to have deleted ‘yes’ from his vocabulary), to see the world as an opportunity, to let go of what might happen and to experience this present moment and the potential it holds.
I am a fairly playful person already, and I like to be silly. I like a good bit of 7am air guitar to the Proclaimers in my purple dressing down and slippers. I like playing the pretend bagpipes with my six year old. “Queen of the sofa” is one of the best games I play with the children– where they all try to tickle and wrestle me off the sofa and the winner is “Queen”! We play word games, guessing games, paper/rock/scissors and all sorts. The children love it when I am silly, and especially when I say yes. Today I have said yes to making pancakes, getting out the knitting needles, reading several long stories, building up a bucket of tinder for a fire and making dandelion bhajis (they got the idea from seeing Countryfile at their grandparents’ house this weekend).
Sometimes saying yes is not necessarily a direct yes. For example, I don’t want them to eat several chocolate bars for breakfast! Saying yes to the need is for me not the same as saying yes to the request. Here’s an example:
Can we have 3 chocolate bars each for breakfast?
Wow! Sounds like you’d love to gorge yourselves on chocolate! Imagine the chocolatey mess that would make all over your faces and hands!
Yeah, it would be brilliant! Like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! Imagine if everything were made of sweets and chocolate.
And then the conversation moves on. Perhaps you think I am kidding and that no child would let go of the idea of eating chocolate for breakfast if he weren’t given a firm “no”. Perhaps. But sometimes indulging the idea playfully is enough to move everyone on.
Here’s what happened when we made dandelion bhajis:
Mummy, can we make those dandelion bhajis like they made on Countryfile?
(I sigh and nearly say no. I was weeding in the polytunnel and didn’t want to stop what I was doing for another messy kitchen activity.) You mean you want to make dandelion bhajis? I didn’t see that programme– remember, I was putting your brother to sleep?
Yeah, but I remember how to make them. Can we just sprinkle some sugar over them to get the bugs out like we did with the blackberries in the summer?
You want to sprinkle sugar on the dandelion heads? Do you mean salt?
Yeah, salt. Then we can cook them and eat them.
So, let me get this right. You want to make dandelion bhajis, but first you want to get the bugs off them?
Okay, can I make a suggestion? Why not use the salad spinner to clean them really well, instead of salt, and then we can figure out where to go from there. (They run off –cheering!– to the kitchen to find the salad spinner, buying me a bit more time to finish the weeding.)
It’s worth repeating this: I USUALLY SAY NO! Today I decided to try avoiding no. The result? Well, it’s obvious that the children were inordinately happier. But for me, I had to work a lot harder to listen to the children and understand. I had to actively listen (summarise what they were saying, identify the need behind what they were saying, show that I was listening with body language and verbal responses) and I had to be prepared to step outside of my NO and entertain the idea that this might not turn out the way I think it will.
For me, this is so key. Like so many times before, I imagined that this activity would result in a mess that I would have to clean up. I didn’t want to stop what I was doing to facilitate their messy play idea. I didn’t like the sound of dandelion bhajis. I didn’t really want to do it at all. But what I imagine to be the case so often is not the result. I limit myself and my experience of my children with my own mind. Being willing to be brave, to take a risk, to say yes more often than no, to open my mind to the idea that every future moment is pregnant with potential, that life is positively ringing with energy– such a shift in mindset opens up all of the possibilities the world has to offer. Saying yes allows me to experience this joyous, fruitful, resonant life hand in hand with my children.
© Copyright Lisa Hassan Scott, 2012. For reprint permission contact the copyright holder.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.