Motherhood

Three Words That Changed How I Parent

Monkey bars

Six years ago, I heard some parenting advice, and it changed everything…

“AIM FOR YES.”

Funnily enough, I can’t remember who said it or where I heard it, but those three words have run through my mind every few days since then. (That’s approximately 712 times.) The idea is that there are certain rules kids need to follow — say, try hard at school, be respectful to others, go to bed at bedtime, eat the odd vegetable, etc. — but outside of that, if they want to try something out, just say yes.

For example, here are few recent scenes at home:
Toby wanted to wear his bathing suit in the bath
Anton wanted to jump from one sofa to the other
Toby wanted to mix milk and water
Anton wanted to wear pajamas to the grocery store
Anton wanted to lie down on the skateboard
Toby wanted to wear shorts on a chilly day
Anton wanted to sleep upside down (feet on pillow)

My knee-jerk reaction is sometimes to say no — I mean, just hop in the bath, just drink your milk — but then I think: why not? If it’s not hurting anyone, and they find it exciting or enticing for some reason, who cares? “Aim for yes” runs through my mind, and I say go for it. They might feel cold on the walk home, they might not love the flavor of their drink, but they will feel free and curious! And that’s worth it, right? Side note: It’s also funny for me to see all the random stuff they come up with. :)

I just wish I could thank the person who said those three words.

Toby and Anton

Thoughts? What’s the best parenting advice you’ve gotten? Anything that still sticks with you? (My runner-up would be “babies be babies.”)

P.S. Trying out slow parenting, and 20 surprising parenting tips.

  1. I am always trying to be a good parent. And i feel this article you wrote for me. I found here some vital points about parenting. Hope so it will be helpful for being me a good parent. Thanks for the sharing such a useful article.

  2. Lacey Parr says...

    My favorite 3 word parenting advice has always been, “preserve the relationship.” Because really, what we are in is a lifelong relationship with our children.

  3. Mia says...

    Similarly, at a baby shower, a friend shared advice her midwife had given her just after her second baby was born: “Say yes as much as possible.” I found it so wise and moving that I wrote it out as big and prettily as I could, framed it, and hung it in our living room. I need a consistent, visual reminder in order to do it :)

  4. Bri A says...

    I don’t have children yet, but one of the most meaningful things my mom used to say was “what happened right before that?” It applies in all situations — a fight with a sibling, feeling frustrated, feeling overwhelmed, etc. It was an easy, low-pressure way to get at whatever the source of an issue was.

  5. Mary says...

    Yes, this is so important! I read something similar recently and had a total ah-ha moment. Kids don’t ask these things to cause trouble, they’re asking because so much of the world is new and they’re curious and genuinely trying to figure it out. Also, so much of childrens’ lives, especially for little kids, is out of their control, and giving them permission to explore, within reason of course, is so helpful. The little experiments teach them a real answer, like you mentioned – milk and water taste gross together, it feels funny without a pillow under my head, laying on my belly on my skateboard is scary – but almost more than that it gives them self confidence for trying something new and learning an outcome, develops even more curiosity and wonder, gives them a sense that the world is theirs too and not just a world of adults who make the rules. This also reminded me of a moment from my own childhood. We were at a Fourth of July barbecue and my dad was smoking a cigar with a bunch of other dads. I was watching curiously because he wasn’t a smoker and he walked over and said, “Do you want to try it?” I was only 11! But I said yes because I wanted to be brave so I took a big ole puff and then immediately started coughing and then went and puked in some bushes. It was disgusting and awful. My dad came over and said, “it’s pretty gross huh?” I never wanted anything to do with smoking anything of any kind after that. My dad’s “yes” taught me the best lesson about not smoking!

  6. Catherine says...

    Good advice! My husband works outside of town so I am pretty much on my own the whole week. It is easy just to go straight to the point just, do everything my way and survive. I usually say no to my kids ideas :S but your post opened something and last night I said yes for few things… It was as easy and the atmosphere much lighter.
    Another great advice we got from our preschool is to honor our “yes but not today”. Kids learn that when you say “later” you really meant it. I think it values their voice and initiatives & build their trust.

  7. I’m an art teacher and this rings so true! There’s a lot of rules, expectations and standards that kids are expected to follow and meet during the school day. It’s so important that they also get to hear “yes!” When a student asks me “Can I do…” or “Can I use…” I ask myself what I want them to learn at the end of the lesson and if their choice still allows them to meet that goal, I say yes.

    • Laura says...

      I am an art teacher (as well as a new mother). Pick your battles is definitely my mantra.

  8. Jane B. says...

    I’m going to try doing this with my husband who’s always suggesting the wildest things. I’m going to *aim for saying YES!* to whatever crazy shenanigan he suggests for next weekend. I think it could be really, really fun — for him AND for me. Thanks, Joanna!!

  9. stephanie says...

    Generally agree, but I do think it has to have limits, and evolve as your child gets older. It’s cute when a four year old will only wear pajamas, won’t brush her hair, etc. A couple years later, less so, particularly if it comes with the entitled attitude of a child who’s never heard “no.” Normal schools and teachers are going to expect some degree of compliance with rules that are somewhat silly. So I feel like you need to ease them toward that with a little bit of sometimes you have to do things you don’t feel like doing. But yes, if they want to try peanut butter on a cucumber, have at it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes absolutely to having limits! we do say “no” many times a day, just not about random playful things that don’t hurt anyone :) totally agree with you, great points. xo

  10. I love this! Each of the things you listed your boys wanted to do — I remember doing them or wanting to do them as a kid and being delighted in the process or imagination of each thing. When I’m a mom, I hope I can remember the feeling of being a kid.

  11. Nadine says...

    I had to learn this the hard way. When my kids were little, my energy was pretty depleted from a number of causes, including a failing marriage. I felt there was only so much I could take, and often felt stretched quite thin, so I tried to make it a priority to maintain boundaries for myself… Which included allowing myself to say “no” when I felt I needed to. Apparently, I must have said “no” fairly often to my children.
    At one point, when my eldest was in 2nd grade, he told me, “You’re a ‘No’ mom”.
    That broke my heart. I had never envisioned myself as a ‘No’ Mom. I had always thought I would be a fun Mom, the kind that embraced the silly, adventurous, creative elements of my children. But I had been too stressed and exhausted to enjoy any of it.
    That moment was a wake-up call for me.
    I did not want to be a ‘No’ Mom. Boundaries are important, but so is the ability to say, “Great idea!! Let’s try it!”, and giving children the freedom to be creative, to discover their world on their terms.
    That moment, painful as it was, was exactly what was needed to help me shift into being a “‘Yes’ Mom”…and ultimately, made parenting more fun and improved my relationship with my children.

    • Sarah says...

      <3 being a mom is hard. You were doing your authentic best! I’m impressed with how you took his comment and had the strength to make a change in yourself at such a juncture in your life. You go, mama.

  12. Bridey says...

    This was very much my mom’s approach. We lived in a very small town, and she was often left alone for long stretches of time with three wacky kids as my dad’s job required him to travel regularly. So she let us get up to all kinds of hijinks that hurt no one and honestly created some of our best memories.

    Piling all the blankets and pillows into the bathtub to sleep in there at night? Why not?

    Moving all the furniture and rugs so we could tie stocking hats to our feet and “skate” around the downstairs? Sure!

    Attempt to fill the largest water balloon possible in the kitchen sink? Let’s try it every single year despite it always bursting all over the floor!

    Plus, this approach ended up in adventures sometimes, like the time when we asked her if we could skip school to go to Chicago for the day instead and she was like, “Psh, why not?” Those kinds of things meant so much to us growing up, and now as an adult I understand how unique her willingness to not only let us be weird, but often to be an actual collaborator was and I value it so much!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      she sounds amazing, bridey!

  13. Anie says...

    This is so good easy and hard to do at the same time. A wise friend told me once to “start with Yes” and your post is a giod reminder of this. Its also lovely to see my kids hear yes and know that is from where I try to guide them. Hard to dial down from positive start…

  14. Amelia says...

    Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.

    In other words, for all the things new mamas worry about (e.g., fussy days, getting to bed late, formula, phases of defiance, etc.), they are small problems in the big grand scheme of things. As your littles become bigs, you’ll have bigger, more serious things to worry about. For now, savor the time and be grateful for little problems.

    • Trish O says...

      Very true. The issues become so much more….

  15. Julie Hoddy says...

    PICK YOUR BATTLES

  16. Karin says...

    As mama to a 3 year old, I think frequently about how challenged adults are to initiate change in their lives and how we strive to control what we can. Yet, feeling out of control and like everything is changing all the time is a toddler’s reality. Meltdowns seem a totally reasonable response to that reality – I’m not sure I would keep it together as well as my child does if faced with the same!
    Outside of basic health, safety and schedule requirements, I’ve found that any way I can offer a modicum of autonomy to my girl allows her to feel peaceful and empowered.

    • Sadie says...

      Yes! My son was crying because he couldn’t manage to get his trouser button undone when he need to use the toilet. I had been reading about actors who wore costumes so elaborate they couldn’t pee by themselves. I suddenly thought, wow, it would be completely terrible if you had to wear clothes you couldn’t get out of by yourself, every day! Sometimes when you see it from a kid’s perspective, life is pretty hard.

  17. Lauren says...

    I literally can’t stop thinking of this advice. And I don’t even have a child! I never realized how mentally my mindset has been to react with “no.”
    I want to apply it to my life specifically with my manager and my boyfriend.
    Yesterday my boyfriend said “let’s grab italian food tonight.” My instinct was to respond with “No, ugh i had meal planned for us to bake chicken.” And I remembered this advice and instead I said “What a fun, spontaneous, thoughtful idea”

  18. Victoria says...

    I just read something recently along those lines : the magic words were “Why not?” (in Today’s Parent, I believe). Before you say “no” to your kid’s request, ask yourself “Why not?”, and if the answer is not an obvious danger or other serious objection, just go ahead and say “yes” :) Now on my fourth and fifth children (twins), I am practicing this approach all the time and find the task of raising them so much more enjoyable for all involved!

    • Sadie says...

      My son (4) always responds to “No,” with, “Come on, please? Say, ‘Aw, fine.’ Please say ‘Aw, fine!” My “why not” is apparently a reluctant “Aw, fine”!

  19. Elizabeth says...

    This is fantastic! Although I don’t have kids of my own (yet… maybe?), this makes me think of the neighbors across the street. Their kids are rarely seen outside without wearing a costume of some sort. Mario, Luigi, Spiderman, The Hulk, you name it, they’re wearing it. Even on smoldering hot days when I can’t manage to take off enough clothes, they stay in character!

    • Kate D says...

      Hahahaha, performers

  20. Renee says...

    Someone told this to my sister, who told it to me and I think about it a lot: When my kids are acting in a way I find exasperating, I say “Boy, [insert child’s name] is really acting like a [insert age]-year-old!” It really helps me gain perspective on how they are usually acting totally appropriately for their age. We often forget that children are not little adults. They are encountering brand-new things and learning so much every single day. I try to remember it’s my place to witness and guide, but I can’t live it for them or make them magically know how to do/handle/deal with something. Which is hard, man. Especially as I head into the tween years with my oldest.

    • Stephanie Huske says...

      I love this one! Definitely going to try to remember it with tweens around the corner for us, too.

  21. janine says...

    I love this. Just today, I noticed my son’s hair was getting long and I asked him if he wanted to get a haircut or let it grow longer. “It’s up to you,” I told him. “It’s your hair, so you can wear it however you want.”
    “Really?” he asked.
    “As long as you get good grades in school, I don’t care what length your hair is,” I said.

  22. Patty says...

    “Choose the battles you can win”. Great advice from my children’s pediatrician.

  23. Beckxoxo says...

    I think the greatest mothering I received was “Good for her, not for me” Motherhood doesn’t need to be full of competition, comparison or judgement. I love knowing my kids and I are running our own race. We do lots other families don’t do. I drop balls that others probably don’t. I excel at things that some others probably don’t. Its all fine. Stay in your own lane!

    • Trish O says...

      i agree with this 100% and try to teach it to my children. Just because everyone else thinks it is wonderful, if it is not for you that is ok. No judgement to them just not for you.

  24. Chelsea says...

    I was so inspired by this post that this afternoon, when my 3yo asked to put the keys in the ignition of my car, I said yes. It wasn’t until I buckled him and my 10 month old in their car seats and closed the door behind me that I realized he had pushed the “lock all” button and they were both locked in the car. Took the police almost 20 min to arrive, and just as they were about to pull up, my son figured out how to unlock the door with his foot.

    • TillyMc says...

      LOL!

    • HAHAHAHA!

    • Rachel says...

      Haha!

    • katelyn says...

      Literal LOL. (Coming from a mother who locked her daughter in her carseat in the car last summer.)

    • Lauren says...

      OMG cracking up at my desk! Hugs to your family

    • Megan says...

      Oh man. I’m laughing and also shaking my head because this must have been so stressful in the moment. Big hug to you (and big glass of wine, maybe).

  25. Tracy says...

    First thanks Joanna, for great advice in a neat little package I’ll remember! And, thanks to Sam for her comment about applying this to life more broadly. A long time ago I was told that I didn’t have to do everything well – but, I did have to ask for help when I didn’t know what to do. My son has sensory and fine motor issues that are too complex for even some specialists to understand – and, they are simply beyond my ability to address by myself. What I can do is to keep pushing, pushing, pushing until I find the right person at the right time to help him. I am so grateful that there is always someone who can help me parent better if I do the work to find them.

  26. Carol says...

    I thought you were going to say “manage expectations” —and I was wondering what the third word would be.
    I live aim for yes.

  27. Mandi says...

    I was given similar advice during my first pregnancy: “Say yes as much as possible. Then, when you have to say no, they’ll trust you.”

    • Ingrid says...

      This is my advice to new parents too!

  28. Emily says...

    The best advice I ever got was from my old therapist. My son always wanted one of us to lie down with him at night as he fell asleep, long past the age I felt he “should” need us. My therapist encouraged me to be beside him when he asked that of me, even if he seemed too old to need me that way.

    She said, “By the time he is old enough to NOT need you in this way, the fact that you were there for him when he DID need you in this way will stay with him and he will always keep that comfort with him.”

    She stopped me in my tracks and I’ve never forgotten what she said.

    • Rachel says...

      Makes me tear up

    • Angelica Connelly says...

      This is so helpful and important to remember. Thank you!

    • Elise says...

      thank you – that also made me tear up. I work full time, have 2 boys (7 and 3) and am overwhelmed by all the demands on my time. At night I always have an hour or two of work to do after they go to bed, and I am so frustrated when my kids need me to lay down with them (which is pretty much every night). This is a good reminder to be there for them when they need me, and savor those special moments that will be harder to find as they get older and more independent. This was a timely post for me – lately work has been tough and I’ve been pretty short with my kiddos. Time to push the pause button, have some fun with them and indulge their silly wishes.
      Thanks for this blog for being a fun place to find other like minded women on those nights when I don’t have work to do!

    • Kate says...

      I used to resent having to lie down with my daughter when she was little but as she got older I realized that was the only time that she would really open up and share with me what was going on in her life. Now that she is 14, I am so glad that I never cut off this time with her. No matter how at odds we are with each other during the day, we always have that special time together for the last 20-30 minutes (or more!) where we connect each night. I don’t think I would have the same relationship with her if we didn’t still have that little ritual. I do the same with my son, too!

  29. Alex says...

    My favorite “yes” was when my 2-year-old daughter asked to wear her puddle jumper flotation device to the grocery store. We had just received it in the mail and she didn’t want to wait for our beach trip to the beach to wear it. I couldn’t care less whether we got any funny looks. I just had fun taking a picture of her for the family album.

  30. Jillian says...

    My parents’ best ‘aim for yes’ was dividing clothing into: church, school, play, yard. ‘Yard clothes’ were literally a cardboard box of clothes of various origin (hand-me-downs, things with holes, etc., one half of a matching set, things that hadn’t actually fit in years) that 1) didn’t match and 2) definitely didn’t matter. Once yard clothes were on, all bets were off! Jumping in puddles, mud fights, running through sprinklers on a walk, accidentally-on-purpose falling into the creek during a hike, etc. It was an implicit “YEP, you’re going to get messy; I love it and do not care at all” massive permission to have unbridled fun that I cherish still today.

    • Erin says...

      This is an amazing idea! Filing this away…

  31. Giu says...

    “You do you” from a fellow new mother
    “You don’t get a medal for being a supermum and doing it all by yourself. Accept help when offered” from a blog post I read last week.
    “Children are mini adults. Like adults, they are all different, loving or hating different things. Ultimately you know your child best so follow his lead and trust your guts” from my pediatrician.

  32. Armagan says...

    I have a 9 years old son. The best advice I remind to myself is “be present at the moment” when I am with him. It is so easy to be occupied with job/home/relations related stresses/thoughts. And that occupied version of me is impatient, not really listening, not being mindful of that moment. But when I am truly present at the moment, we have a lovely time, he is such a charm, at those moments I truly see his personality and love every second of it.

  33. Meg says...

    Is that a little piggy in the background?!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha oh my gosh, i think you’re right! i hadn’t noticed that.

  34. Jean says...

    Love this and all the comments. One of the greatest gifts I can give my children is their childhood.

    • Brenda Huntley says...

      Hi Jean, so loved your comment and could not agree more. My girls are now 30 and 28. I have always followed what felt natural and never thought twice about how I communicated to my kids. They are now amazing, smart, independent young women, who unfortunatly (for me) have gone on to do great things far away from their parents. We keep in touch always, and our love is very strong.

    • Rachel says...

      So well said!

    • Amelia says...

      Love this!

  35. Tina says...

    Just last night my 5 yr old asked to do an “esperiment” and I try to always say yes to that. Even if we were in the middle of bedtime routine. Encourage girls and science right? So she mixed up a lovely bowl of flour, water, sugar, and four different food dyes. She loved it and it was a scene I’ll cherish forever! Aim for Yes!

    • Liz says...

      The 4 yr old I nanny for has started to enjoy “experiences,” mainly mixing soap and water, sometimes throwing in a washcloth or wet wipe. Thanks to my own mother’s example my automatic is reaction is “yes, let’s set it up on the dishwasher!” Makes clean-up easy after :)

  36. Chelsie says...

    I love this so much! They have their whole lives to drink milk sometimes and water sometimes, but that window of time where they are curious about how the two taste mixed is very small! Let them be little! It feels so respectful of their development and growth to think about things this way. You’re such a good mama, Joanna! Thanks for the all the inspiration. I still think about your mom’s advice to you – “take their worries and their joys seriously” and try to do that every day. xo

    • Marie says...

      Amy, you’re amazing! Thank you. What a bunch of good eggs you women here are!

    • Emilia says...

      Thank you

    • Ali says...

      Thank you, Abby! Just changed mine :)

  37. Di says...

    Amazing thread- so many gems I’ll be coming back to compile for myself.

    For myself: praise the effort when the little ones fail at something, big or small. The look of surprise and appreciation in their little eyes when they experience dissapointment or are expecting a scolding is priceless when you respond praising their effort and encouragement to try again another time. It’s about praising the effort rather than the achievement, and encourages them to explore, be curious and not shy away from failure. This way something concrete I took away from my parenting bible (Grit).

  38. Just from observing my 18 month old over the last year or so, I try to let him explore and be curious right up to the edge of danger/disaster/destruction, to see what he is trying to do. More often than not, he’s not trying — or even headed toward — one of the Big Ds, and if I give him just a little more slack than I’d planned, I see what he wants and can help him, instead of “no no no!”-ing him.

  39. Julie M. says...

    The best parenting advice I use time and time again is responding to questions from curious little people with the question, “what do you think?” Their responses give me insight into how to respond best in a way that feels authentic to me (because no, Santa isn’t real) and considerate of their developmental stage and wonderful imagination (“I wonder how he would get all those toys to every child – what do you think?!”)

    Presently me 4.5 yrs old’s interests range from the banal (“how many my little ponies are there?”) to the macabre (“where is George Washington’s dead body?”) and the old “what do you think?” buys me a little time to respond satisfactorily.

  40. Maureen says...

    This past Saturday my 2 year old was in the yard in her toy car, her sister had strapped her into it. She couldn’t get out and she is potty training, so she pooped in the car, a messy poo. I had to give her a bath, rinse out her clothes, clean up the floor, clean the car, etc. You know the drill. In the middle of my 2 year old’s bath, my 5 year old runs in the house sooo excited, face lit up, holding an umbrella: “Mom! Can you spray the hose in the air while I run around the yard pretending that it is raining???!!!!” I just stared at her, covered in poo with my two year old happily splashing in the tub next to me. I volunteered my husband, who rolled his eyes, but agreed since I was clearly busy. My five year old had THE BEST time pretending it was raining….Long story – I guess, sometimes I am too tired/busy to say yes, but if you can, recruit someone else.

  41. Casey Boss says...

    I needed to read this today — well actually, I wish I had read it a week or so ago. I have been so impatient and not the mom I want to be. My temper is short, I feel angry and rage-ie, and it almost traces back to my need to have things go to my expectations…..ie, involves me saying no. My kids then resist, I push back further, and we get no where good. I’ve been doing a lot of reflection of how to be and do better and as of right now, I’ll “aim for yes.” Even if I only get to the pause before no, I will take that moment to reflect on my (and their) intentions.

    • joy says...

      Casey, you are not the only one. This post brought tears to my eyes (again, my toddler had already managed once) last night.

  42. Sam H. says...

    While I am not a parent, I value this advice. Why should children be the only ones who get to hear yes? I think we ought to encourage ourselves to aim for yes — to try new things, to keep learning, to keep expanding, and to be open and free as well.

    • Yes, I agree!

  43. Mikaela says...

    I think this is great advice, but my struggle is that most of the things I’m saying no to are mess-making things. Do I let them just scatter the crayons across the floor for the sheer pleasure, only to have to fight the battle of making them pick them up? Blowing through their straws into their cups delights them, but it always ends up with them blowing through their straws at each other and milk all over the table. I can get behind saying yes to creative messes, but most of the time its just plain messes. Any advice?

    • Angela says...

      With my five year old, I remind him that if he chooses to do something that makes a big mess, he’s responsible for making sure it gets cleaned up (sometimes with my help, sometimes on his own). For my two year old, I let her make a mess and then model cleaning up and invite her to help.
      All within reason, of course. Dumping out legos/swatting all of the alphabet magnets off of the fridge/tearing up paper – sure! Really messy stuff – either no, or send them outside.

    • Kara says...

      Some clean up strategies that have worked for our 3 year old: (1) Put on the Clean Up Robot song and race to see if you can clean up the mess before the song ends. (2) If it’s a big mess that seems overwhelming, I ask S to pick which part he will do and which part I will help with (like, he might decide to pick up all the blue and yellow Duplos, and I’ll pick up the green and red ones, or he will clean up all the trains and I will put away the tracks). (3) If all else fails, I pull out a shopping bag and say that if he can’t take care of his toys I’m going to give them away to a kid who will take care of them, and then any toys that I have to pick up get put in the bag and dropped off at Goodwill (I haven’t actually had to follow through on that threat yet). I guess I usually just say no to food messes, but I could see saying yes to somethings like a milk spitting competition as long as they went outside or did it in the bathtub?

  44. Amanda says...

    I read this last night and then thought about it this morning when my 2 year old asked to play legos. I was getting ready for work and my husband was taking him downstairs to eat his breakfast. After he asked I said “we can’t play with legos right now.” My concern was we needed to get out of the house and I didn’t want to have to pick up legos before leaving the house. But, I immediately regretted my response because why couldn’t he play with a few legos while munching on his cheerios for the 20 minutes it was going to take me to get ready? Next time I am going to try to say yes!

    • Amy says...

      Don’t be hard on yourself! Sometimes a request just doesn’t work in the moment and you have to say no. That’s okay!!

  45. Yes! The general rule I try to follow is “It’s OK if it’s not hurting people or property.” Go for it, experiment, see what happens. If their legs are cold on the walk home, maybe they’ll choose pants next time without me even saying anything.

  46. My husband never says no to kids… No is never the first reaction. He has instilled it in me and asks the grandparents to follow the same too when they are around.. its so easy to say either, but somehow over the years we tend to say no more to the kids so that our lives are easier. So, Aim for yes!! :)

  47. That is a great little post, but the photo is classic…OMG.

  48. Stefanie says...

    I love this. When my daughter was a wee baby the best parenting advice I got, from my mom, “Choose your battles”… some things are, and some things are not worth stressing and fighting over :)

  49. Julie says...

    This is so timely for me! Talking to my therapist – we had a similar conversation. If it isn’t immediately harmful to say “yes” – then let them try it! It ends up being a learning experience, and something you won’t have to fight them on down the road. Her example was about going outside in the rain. My daughter will beg and plead to go outside, and I always say no. But if I said yes once (and I will the next time), then she will go outside and realize the discomfort of being cold and wet in the rain, and likely won’t make the same request the next time. It’s been an eye-opening concept for me to ponder the last few days!

    • Jill says...

      She may also find out that she LOVES being outside in the rain! Our five year old adores being outside in any weather, and routinely gears up in boots, splash pants, rain jacket, and occasionally gloves (spring has been so cold, you guys!) and heads out for 30-60 minutes at a time. I have no idea where I read it, but it was along the lines of “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes” (somewhere in Norway, I think). So we try to get the right clothes and he enjoys being outside in almost any weather.

    • Caitlin says...

      This actually really brightened my day as I can remember VIVIDLY how delighted I was that my parents always always let us play outside and run around in the rain…even thunderstorms?? I can picture a few specific occasions even now. Thanks for this sweet memory as I prep to go to therapy this afternoon to continue to work through my issues with my parents stemming from the many times they said no.

    • Jill I think you definitely read that on Cup of Jo, one of the motherhood around the worlds!

  50. I first heard “aim for yes” from the headmaster where I work. His position is that “the default answer is yes” and I quickly discovered that I both liked the approach when it came to school and that it would work well with a two year old. That two year old liked to run everywhere (he’d ask “why walk when I can run, Mama?”) and when running was safe, run he did. Sometimes in a pirate costume at the park. Once, memorably dressed as a cat in the aisles of Home Depot. Now the two year old is 18 and I am especially glad of all the Mama says yes adventures we’ve enjoyed.

  51. Megan says...

    Love this and all the comments! A parallel piece of advice I heard was, “Say yes instead of no.” So, can we go to the park? Instead of “No, first we have to clean up your toys,” you say “Yes, we can go as soon as we pick up the toys.” It’s the exact same message, but it’s positive instead of negative. I realized I have a knee-jerk reaction to say no (why???), and re-framing helps.

    • Amber says...

      This is great! Going to keep this stored away.

  52. Aili says...

    I read an article when my son was younger about how as a parent the one phrase we should try NOT to use was “be careful”. The author explained that by using those words your inferring that what the child is doing is dangerous, when in fact it might just be our own adult fear getting in the way. My husband and I have adopted this concept and now try to lead with the phrase “be wise.. with your body, that animal, etc.” Of course, if there was true danger, “be careful” does get used, but for those day to day toddler live-on-the-edge moments, “be wise” has been good to us.

    • Melanie says...

      love this! And thank you. I need to hold back on my ‘be carefuls…’

    • Chea says...

      I read this recently too — and have tried to be SUPER aware of when and how I say it! Be careful is different and means different things in different contexts – be careful caring water is different than being careful cutting with sharp scissors! I’ve been trying – “Be mindful of what you are doing”, which is funny, because it’s essentially what I am doing while catching myself saying BE CAREFUL!

    • E says...

      Just for fun: “Be careful” is an old-timey send off phrase in the south (not unlike “take care”).

    • Jean says...

      Overheard a mom with her son playing in the creek: be aware. I love this so much more than be careful.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love “be wise” and “be aware” — so much respect for the child in those reminders. xo

    • stephanie says...

      Do you not think it’s somewhat restrictive and a bit of overthinking though? My advice would be to relax and go with the flow, which to me does NOT include carefully choosing every word I use with my kids. I also think people sound goofy and a bit precious when you hear them saying stuff to their kids like “let’s make a better choice, is that safe for your body?” I mean sure, if that’s your thing and that’s the way you talk. Otherwise, you sounds like you’ve been eating parenting books for breakfast and I think it will eventually land you in therapy.

    • Amy Arvin says...

      Thank you, Stephanie. Yes.

    • Asha says...

      LOVE this!! I am going to adopt this from now on. “Be wise” sounds like it empowers the child to make the decision/choice vs the parent’s constant (in my case) warning or nagging halting their actions.
      Between this and “Aim for yes” I feel encouraged to be a better parent. Grateful for the CoJ community!!

  53. Heather says...

    More and more I find that learning to be a parent is also un-learning certain lessons of my childhood. I think many times my gut reaction of NO or my anxiety about my kids’ behavior (the times I feel like yelling) are because I’m afraid – afraid they’ll get hurt, afraid I can’t control them (I can’t!), or afraid because maybe I did the exact same thing as a kid and was punished for it and so now it triggers a deep fear response that it might not even warrant. For example, lately my 5 year old has been “talking back” a little bit. It immediately sends my blood pressure soaring, and I wonder how much of that is because If id done that as a child, I would have been spanked or had my mouth washed out with soap. I have to remind myself that no one is really in danger, and that helps me respond to my kid calmly, coaching him on how to speak to people respectfully, instead of punishing him.

  54. Jo says...

    I have a constant yes that I’ve decided on and stick to – whenever my little one (2 years old) asks for a cuddle he gets one. Even when he’s covered in spaghetti he has me and my partner jumping up from eating dinner to deliver cuddles. When he’s using it as a tactic for not getting in the buggy I give him the cuddle and then resume the negotiations, if I’m talking to someone – he knows he can say ‘cuddle’ and he’ll get one and even if he’s having a tantrum I will oblige, in spite of the screaming. I don’t think it’s groundbreaking and I have no theorising behind it (maybe he’ll grow up well-balanced, maybe he’ll be dead needy, who knows) but I love it.

  55. I agree with everyone else, as a parent, I wish I hadn’t have been so uptight with my children. As a single parent, I always felt that I was being judged by others when we were out in public, so I was so concerned about them growing up to be good little people that I kept them from enjoying a lot of life’s precious little moments that come with being a kid. As a grandparent, I have learned that as long as my grandbabies aren’t hurting themselves (or others), then it’s all good. My youngest son asked me, “When did you become so nice?” I told him, “Because I now realize that everything is ‘no big deal’.”

    • Kate says...

      “Because I now realize that everything is ‘no big deal’.” omg how true! How many things do we over analyze and stress over, that all work themselves out and/or turn out to be no big deal! Life is short and kids are little for only a short time, all these parenting challenges/tough phases really end up being no big deal in the long run. You sound like an awesome grandparent!

  56. mindi says...

    I love this! One of the best lessons I learned (and repeat all the time) is “Don’t make happy, happier.”

    Meaning, if they are having a good time it doesn’t need to be my call to find the thing to elevate it because I think it will make them EVEN happier. This is a great mantra for control-freaks like me!

    • Amber says...

      Wow!! This is brilliant and insightful. I’ll have to tuck this away, too.

    • Elizabeth says...

      YES! I’ve heard it as “Don’t make a happy baby happy,” and it’s stuck with me. Though I admit, in the midst of chaos, I have the hardest time remembering all these helpful and true phrases I continue to hear. I’m trying, though…

  57. Jess says...

    I love this and need to do it. I’m guilty of making the quick or rigid choice too often. I always learn such kind parenting tips (as well as a zillion other things) from your blog!

  58. Maryann says...

    Yes! Pick your battles. This is a great reminder, thank you.

    Years ago, the battle I chose NOT to have was over my son’s wardrobe. The kid wears shorts and t-shirts in ALL weather. We live in Maine. Sometimes when there is snow on the ground and goose bumps on his skin, I question my logic. But I assume (hope?) that one day he will self-correct!

    • Melanie says...

      Maybe yes, but maybe not. My husband is a total Minnesotan boy – this past weekend we were along the North shore where there was snow and ice and it was COLD. My toddler and I were bundled with hats and gloves and he wore flip flops! But you know what – he NEVER grumbles about the cold/weather so there’s that and his immune system is the best i’ve ever seen

    • Maryann says...

      Oh my goodness, Melanie, that is hilarious! I could totally see my son’s future self doing this. He also NEVER complains about being cold and is not a sick kid. So maybe there is a correlation!

  59. When my toddler was a baby I had such a hard time figuring out who I was as a parent. I was so scared of doing something wrong or being judged. My sister said to me that ‘its not a problem until it is a problem’
    This solved so many things, co sleeping, feeding, weaning etc etc…. we loved the way we were doing things and if it wasnt bothering us and we were happy then it wasnt a problem. It reminded me not to worry about what the rest of the world might think of us :)

  60. My best mom friend told me that her father always said “Don’t rush for fun.” What it means is don’t rush the kids from one activity that is already fun in order to get to the next thing. I really saw this in practice when kids are playing at a playground or wherever and then everyone is rushing to a birthday party, or a holiday celebration, and then rushing from the X to the next thing. If the kids are already having fun, why do they need to be rushed for more fun? It really helped me slow it all down and plan the right amount of time in between things and then also just let them be ok with what they’re doing in that moment. You don’t always have to look for the next way to have fun. There’s also fun in being calm.

    • sarah says...

      My housemates and I had this same theory in college, applied to parties. Don’t leave a party where you are having fun to go to another party that may be more fun. I think I subconsciously apply this to my own parenting because of that!

  61. SR says...

    My mother is a special education teacher and I think it’s given her a certain understanding and patience when it comes to kids––with special needs or without. She lives by this quote:

    “Thinking of your child as ‘behaving badly’ disposes you to think of punishment. Thinking of your child as struggling to handle something difficult encourages you to help them through their distress.”

    • Aideen says...

      I’ve been trying to remember this at homework time – when my little five year old’s “handy” suddenly doesn’t work….she is five, why am I getting stressed about homework? And I’ve realised that she is avoiding the work because she is stressed that she can’t do it. There are lots of discussions to be had about the relevance of homework at this age, but for the moment I need to remember to be a helper not a dictator.

    • Ana says...

      Love that! I have a friend whose son is going through a high-strung, needy phase (well, my friend is hoping its a phase…;) and she says she keeps reminding herself: “He’s not *giving me* a hard time. He’s just *having* a hard time.” We are not always the cause or the target of our children’s upset–sometimes we’re just the witness!

  62. Lisa says...

    Such great advice! I try to do th

    • Lisa says...

      Ugh! It posted before I could write my post. What I meant to say was that I try to do this (say yes if there’s no real concern, eg safety) as I remember how frustrating it was as a child to be told “no” all the time (and it feels like I’m doing that anyway with a toddler – no you can’t lie on top of your sister. No you can’t bash the tv) so when I can say yes I like to. The other thing is following through on things I say / promise. My parents used to promise us things all the time (to try and get us to comply) but not follow through and it really annoyed me. I want my children to be able to trust what I say, and for myself I want to say things that I mean, not just say stuff to get my way

  63. Cait says...

    Our household motto is “life is about choices” which means I often let my kids do things I want to say no to, but don’t. When the kids make a decision and don’t like their own decision, we politely remind them life is about choices and that was your choice, so the only person you can be upset with over that choice is you. I think its a great way for our kids to have agency in their lives and learn from mistakes.

  64. Jenny Ronan says...

    This is such a lovely idea, along with slow parenting. I have one year old twin boys so it’s early days for me, but I want them to have a sense of adventure, confidence and independence, and to foster their creativity as best I can.

  65. Simone says...

    I had my first son at 19 and when he was about three, he wanted to wear his powerranger suit to the shops. It mortified me as people already looked at me as I was very young looking so I always said no and it always ended up in tears… sometimes both of us! I had my third child at 34 and when he wanted to do the same I let it happen, because they grow in a blink of an eye and it’s not a battle worth fighting.

  66. Marti says...

    My parents raised eight kids (seven girls, one boy- my dad always jokes that they were holding out for that boy because he is the second-to-youngest). My Dad had a similar philosophy, which was to only say “no” if there was a reason (e.g. we wanted to do something that was possibly dangerous or disruptive). Otherwise, my parents would try to always say yes. Now that I’m older, I look back really fondly on my childhood and appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to raise all eight of us to be happy well-rounded people, and I hope I can do it half as well!