How hard can it be to say “yes” to everything a toddler wants?
A few months ago, the word “no” often felt like my default response to Zoe’s requests. Sometimes the things she asked for were simply not in her best interests, or had the potential to harm someone else. But other times, if I’m being brutally honest, I was just too lazy to oblige. The sofa was too comfortable, my tea was still hot, or I was just all touched out. So I set myself a challenge in an attempt to change this, and here’s what happened the day I said “yes” to every toddler request.
This post may contain affiliate links. This simply means that at no cost to you I get paid some commission if you make a purchase through one of my links. You should know I ONLY recommend products that I have personally USED and LOVE, and that I think you’ll love too! My disclosure policy is a bit boring, but if you want to read it, you can find it here.
I’m not usually a Jim Carey fan. I have nothing against him personally, his films are just not my cup of tea. One exception to this is the film “Yes man”. In the film, Jim’s character Carl is stuck in a rut of negativity. In order to try to get himself out, he commits himself to say “yes” to everything he gets asked, whether he wants to or not. The results are pretty hilarious, and of course, being Hollywood, his life is transformed for the better as a result. Check it out.
I was thinking about this film a while ago, whilst reflecting on the frequency with which I told Zoe “no” each day, in one form or another. No, you can’t have another biscuit. Sorry, we can’t play in the garden right now. I’m not putting the batteries back in that toy. I’m tired, I don’t want to give you another horsey-ride around the house.
I asked myself the question, what would happen if I spent a day saying ‘yes’ to everything instead?
What’s the big deal?
Maybe you’re wondering what the big deal is about saying “no” a lot and thinking that it’s probably good for children not to get their own way all the time. I think the words we use are super important, and the way we use them can make or break situations, or even people.
There’s a Proverb in the Bible that says ‘the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat it’s fruit.’ (Proverbs 18:21). When I read this, I’m reminded that what we say matters, A LOT! And what could be more true than about how we talk to our children? I think that overusing the word “no” is quite a negative way to be communicate with little people. And whilst I totally agree that children need boundaries, I also think that saying “no” as much as I did was more for my benefit than for hers.
Ready for a challenge
I liked the challenge of committing to say “yes” to everything Zoe requested for one day. It sounded like an interesting thing to do and a great way to get out of the parenting rut I felt stuck in. But I felt like it would be a lot of hard work, and I was already tired. I was looking for things that would make life easier, not harder. So I put the challenge on the back burner to be returned to at some point, when life wasn’t so hectic and I had time.
And you know what they say about waiting for a ‘quieter day.’
But I was stuck.
And then I had one of those days where everything felt like a struggle, and the joy of motherhood seemed a long way off. Do you ever have days like that? It’s like everyone got out of bed on the wrong side. The toddler argued with everything, the baby didn’t nap, and I woke up feeling abnormally tired and cranky. (I say ‘woke up,’ but there’s a very real possibility that sleep never actually occurred).
Or maybe it’s just me who has days like that. I know that as mums, we’re meant to share our calm with our wonderful toddlers, rather than getting sucked into their chaos (and I totally agree with this), but there are days when this feels impossible. And I had one of one of those days.
Be the change
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different result.Albert Einstein
I knew that if I wanted something to change, and I did, I was going to have to do something different. In order to get out of the rut I was in, I needed to do something radical, something that went against the norm, something new. Simply deciding to ‘be more positive’ wouldn’t cut it. We needed a breakthrough. We needed a ‘yes’ day.
Here’s what happened the day I said “yes” to every toddler request.
To set the scene: I chose the one day of the week when my husband would leave for work before the girls woke up, and not be home until after they were in bed. In other words, a day when I was all on my own for the whole day. with no help. I figured, if I’m going to do this, I might as well do it on a day that would normally be the most challenging. What could possibly go wrong?
How to have a “yes” day
Before I tell you how it went, the day I said “yes” to every toddler request, here are a few ground rules I set myself for the challenge.
- Manners are still important. Zoe still has to ask politely and I’ll remind her if she doesn’t. For the purposes of this post, I haven’t recorded every time I remind her to ask for things nicely. But I do. I’m very persistent in encouraging manners.
- Safety first – if there’s a tsunami outside our house, we are not going to the park
- Limit sugar intake. She can’t just eat 20 biscuits. Food still has to be sensible.
- No lying (from me) to get out of doing what she’s asking. I.e. if she asks to watch a DVD, I can’t say that the DVD player is broken to get out of doing what she wants.
So here’s how it went, the day I said “yes” to every toddler request
After I’d finished feeding Sophia in my room, I checking on Zoe through the baby monitor and saw that she was awake and playing happily with her books. I spoke to her through the monitor to say “good morning”.
Zoe: Can I come into your room?
A nice easy start.
Zoe: Can I watch Hey Duggee?
Me: Yes. You can watch one episode then we’ll go into your room and get you ready for the day.
Zoe was happy with this.
It was actually useful to have 5 mins to throw on some clothes/brush my hair/clean my teeth etc.
After her episode of Hey Duggee had finished.
Zoe: Can I watch another one?
Me: Yes you can but later on.
No argument from Zoe!
Normally I would have said something like: “No Zoe. Remember I told you that you could watch one, and then we were going to get you dressed. Well, you’ve watched that one episode and now it’s time to get ready”. This would then normally have been followed by persistent asking, whining and me saying ‘no’ lots of times.
Zoe happily got ready and we came downstairs
Zoe: Can I listen to my birthday cd?
Me: Yes. You can listen to it while I express.
I put the music on quietly in order to not annoy our neighbours. I was then able to express some milk and get Sophia ready while Zoe happily listened and sang along to her CD.
When the CD had ended Zoe then played with her toys for a bit whilst she waited for me to get breakfast ready.
Zoe: Please can I have some jam on my toast?
Me: I don’t have any jam I’m afraid. I have bovril or peanut butter, which would you like?
Zoe: Peanut butter please.
As dictated in the ground rules for the day, I was telling the truth about the jam. Zoe seemed perfectly happy with the alternatives I offered her. She was still able to make a choice in the topping, and she was happy with this.
Whilst eating our toast, I informed Zoe that I would be putting Sophia down for her nap after breakfast.
Zoe: Can I watch a movie while you put Sophia down?
Me: You can absolutely watch a movie a bit later. I’ll only be a few minutes putting Sophia down for her nap. Would you like to play with your farm while I’m upstairs?
Zoe: Yes mummy.
Zoe: Can I watch a movie now?
Me: Remember I said you can watch it later?
Zoe: Why not now?
Me: Let’s find something else that we can do together while Sophia naps.
I like to make the most of the time when it’s just me and Zoe, whilst her baby sister naps. Usually if Zoe is playing happily on her own, I will do some tidying in the kitchen for a bit. Other times, we’ll do an activity together.
Zoe was happy to play with me as an alternative to watching a movie, and went to find some crafts to do with me.
Zoe: Mummy can I do this puzzle?
Me: Yes of course.
Zoe: Can I do it with you?
Me: Yes, I may have to go and get Sophia in a few minutes but we can do it till then.
Sophia, had woken from her nap a couple of minutes before Zoe asked me about the puzzle. She was currently playing in her cot quite happily, but I knew that could change at any minute.
I was preparing Zoe in advance for that fact that I might have to stop doing the puzzle with her if Sophia needed attention.
I had just changed Sophia’s nappy and was putting some Vaseline on her bottom.
Zoe: My nose is hurting, can I have some Vaseline on my nose?
Me: That’s a good idea. I’ll wash my hands and then I can help you put it on.
After I went with Zoe to help her use the toilet upstairs.
Zoe; I’ll wash my hands downstairs.
Me: OK that’s fine.
Normally I would have insisted she wash her hands in the bathroom upstairs, as we were already up there and there’s a stool and soap ready for her to use. But today, I let it slide.
Notes to self: It’s good to be flexible and let things go.
After this, I then said ‘yes’ to playing her shopping list game with her multiple times back to back.
Sophia was happy in her jumperoo whilst Zoe and I played games.
Lunch was toasted sandwiches with tuna and mayonnaise inside. Whilst I was making the filling:
Zoe: Can I have some?
Me: Yes, as soon as you remember how to ask me nicely.
Zoe: Please, I can have some?
Me: Yes, here you go.
Gave her some on a spoon.
After she helps herself to some more (without asking), I let her know that it’s her last spoonful and she needs to wait until her lunch to have any more.
Zoe: Can I eat a biscuit after lunch?
Me: Yes you may.
I prompted her to ask nicely, and then agreed with her request.
Zoe: Can I have one of Sophia’s tomato and basil melt puffs?
Me: Yes as soon as you’ve eaten all your sandwich.
She ended up having 3 of the crispy puffs as she kept asking for more. But before I gave her the 3rd one I told her it was the last one and if she was still hungry she could have some fruit.
She then asked for an apricot. So I washed and cut one up for her.
I also cut off one slither of apricot for Sophia to try as I’m currently doing ‘Sophia Led Weaning’ with her.
Zoe: Can I have that? (Pointing to the slither I had just cut off for Sophia)
Me: Yes, you can have this bit and I’ll cut a different bit off for Sophia to have, because it’s nice to share, and Sophia has never tried apricot before.
Normally, I would have just said no. I would have pointed out that she had the whole apricot all to herself, and that Sophia only had a tiny slither to taste. But by saying yes to her request for Sophia’s piece, I was still able to give Sophia a different piece and talk about sharing.
Zoe seemed reasonably happy with this. But did keep looking longingly at the tiny slither in Sophia’s hand.
Eventually, Zoe asked for some more apricot. The only way I could say yes to this request was to cut off a tiny piece of Sophia’s and give it to her. And then changed the subject before she asked for any more.
Then I brought in the biscuits so she could choose one.
Zoe: Can I have some of your biscuit?
I let her have a bite and then ate the rest very quickly before she could ask for me.
While Sophia was napping, Zoe watched the film I had promised earlier (one of her many Winnie the Pooh films).
When the film had finished:
Zoe: Can we play the shopping game?
Me: Yes Zoe.
Zoe LOVES this game! It was a birthday present and we play it most days!
Zoe: Can we listen to music? (meaning her birthday CD for the 3rd time that day!)
Me: Yes, let’s put it on.
Zoe: Mummy dance with me
Me: I get up off the sofa and bust out some moves with my daughter who is delighted.
Zoe: Mummy, RUN!
Me: now chasing Zoe around the house who is still singing along to her CD
I go up and get Sophia who has just woken up from her nap.
While I’m changing Sophia’s nappy…
Zoe: Mummy please get my balloon down.
Me: Absolutely. I just need to finish changing Sophia’s nappy and then I’ll get it.
We both forgot she wanted the balloon by the time the nappy has been changed
As I’m peeling apples and pears ready to steam for Sophia…
Zoe: Can I help you?
(Zoe had got her little chair and was standing next to me in the kitchen)
Me: Yes you can.
I then allow her to put the pieces in the steamer and showed her how to switch it on when it was time.
Zoe: Can I have the flag from the top of the cupboard
Me: Yes, here you go, but don’t poke Sophia’s with it or I’ll have to take it away.
Sophia was sitting in her bouncer in the kitchen with us.
5 minutes later, Zoe poked Sophia in the face with her flag stick so I took the flag away. Zoe asked for it back but I said “no” due to the poking and explained why.
Zoe: Mummy help me find my farm animal stickers please
Resisting urge to tell her to look for them herself first
Me: Ok honey.
They were in the first place I looked which shows she had not even attempted to look for them herself.
Zoe: Can I have one of Sophia’s rice crackers?
Me: Yes, you may have what she doesn’t eat.
(Which ended up being one of the two)
As I was getting her ready for bed she suddenly wanted to show me some of her ballet dancing skills by skipping down the hall holding her teddy.
Me: Why don’t you show me you dance moves once your pajamas are on.
This worked really well. She was super compliant allowing me to help her get changed ready for bed, and then once she was all ready, she got to demonstrate her dancing. She even managed to get me to join in.
Zoe wanted to watch her electric toothbrush go round and round. I told her she could watch it once she had finished cleaning her teeth.
Zoe wanted me to sing all the nursery rhymes in her book, after I’d already sung about 5.
I told her I would sing one more because we’d already done a lot of singing and it was time for sleepy time.
And finally, after one more song, and an extra long ‘lie down on the bed cuddle’, I closed the door and Zoe went to sleep.
Lessons learnt from the day
If I’m honest, the whole day was not as hard as I had been expecting. That’s probably because Zoe didn’t ask for anything difficult or outrageous. (Phew!) She also didn’t ask to go to the park or the pet shop, which would have involved more effort and getting two children all wrapped up, getting the pram out of the car etc. And she didn’t ask to see any of her friends, which could have been tricky to comply with, as would have been dependant on their availability at such short notice.
Even though my day of saying “yes” to every toddler request panned out as pretty low key and uneventful, there are still things I learnt from it.
Here are 5 things I learnt The Day I Said “Yes” to Every Toddler Request
1) Saying “yes” is easier than you think and is good for mother-toddler relationships
It may sound like a bit of a no-brainer to say that saying “yes” is often a lot easier than saying no”. Of course it’s going to be easier to give your child what they want as it tends to avoid [sometimes unnecessary] conflict, arguments and tantrums.
But what about all the times I would say “no” just because I was being inflexible, or what she was asking for was inconvenient, or I was just being lazy. The day I said “yes” to every toddler request, I was reminded that I need to choose my battles carefully and just let some things go.
So if she wants to wash her hands in a sink in a different room, go with that. Or if she asks to help with cooking, find something that she’s able to do, or hold, or mix, or switch on. And if she starts unloading the dishwasher, encourage that desire to help, even if it means the job takes three times as long, and some things need to be re-washed because they’ve been dropped on the floor.
Say “yes” to a better relationship with your toddler
Sometimes saying “yes” to something that appears inconvenient on face value, is actually saying “yes” to some special mummy-toddler time. It’s saying “yes” to having some innocent fun. Saying “yes” to investing in a deeper relationship with your child. Saying “yes” to making your child feel valued and loved.
As mums, are’t these things that we all want?
So for the sake of a little effort on my part, saying “yes” to things I didn’t really want to do, turned out to be great for our relationship. I was reminded that I could still be a fun mum after all, I hadn’t lost this ability when I had a second child and needed more of a schedule to get through the day. Any ‘sacrifices’ I felt I was making saying “yes” to playing and having fun with my daughter were simply paving the way for precious moments to happen. And they were enriching our relationship.
And more than that, Zoe is worth the effort. Every time! And if it’s sometimes a little messy? That can be cleaned up later.
2) There are more creative ways to say ‘yes’ then to simply give your toddler everything they want, right when they want it
In our house, I do not take the attitude of ‘anything for a quiet life.’ As I mentioned above, of course it’s often easier and less hassle to say ‘yes’ to toddlers requests. In the short term that is. Sometimes the allure of a bit of peace and quiet can make it tempting just to give the toddler what they’re asking for. I can imagine that in the long run this won’t pan out well, for the child or for the parent!
I’m perfectly happy to say “no” to something she really really really wants and deal with the short term fallout of a grumpy, whiney child as a result. Short term pain, long term gain. I’m hopeful that my consistency and refusal to compromise and give in to the tears and tantrums now, is laying a solid foundation for later.
But that doesn’t mean I need to be unnecessarily strict and rigid in the way I parent her. The day I said “yes” to every toddler request, reminded me that there are lots of ways I can say “yes” to my toddler, without giving her everything she wants, as soon as she wants it.
3 Different ways to say “yes”
Defer it for a later point in time.
“Yes, you can do that this afternoon, after your nap”.
This response allowed me to agree with what she was asking for, but in a time frame that suited me. It also provided a great teaching opportunity around what it means to be patient. Something that I’m still learning as an adult.
Give their request a time limit.
“Yes, you can look at the pictures on my phone for 5 minutes and then it’s time to put my phone down and do something else”.
This allowed me to give Zoe a treat, but not be excessive. (Any kind of phone time, or TV time in this house is a treat rather than the norm). This response also works with watching her favourite TV program, but limiting it to one episode and then she has to turn it off. Or letting her choose a food related treat, but being very clear that she is allowed one thing, or half a thing, and the rest is for another day.
Use it as an incentive for later.
“You can eat that biscuit when you’ve finished your sandwich and eaten some fruit”.
Again, this response allowed me to say “yes” to Zoe’s request, but not straight away, and was dependant upon her doing something else first. This gave her the power because the satisfaction of her request was in her hands. It can also be used to encourage tidying up as you go along, sharing and healthy eating.
3) There are more gentle and less reaction-causing alternatives to saying “no”.
Sometimes, for any number of reasons, toddlers simply cannot have the thing they want. And I think it’s perfectly acceptable to say “no”. Boundaries are massively important to children and saying “no” helps children understand that some things are not OK. Also, sometimes there’s not time to give a long explanation about something, specifically if it’s a safety issue. As mums we need to be able to say the word “no” and for our toddler to understand that they need to listen to us, stop and obey. For their sake.
Other times, instead of just saying “no”, I found there were different ways to let her down, which didn’t cause a backlash of emotions.
One example of this was to offer an alternative.
e.g. “I don’t have any jam, but you can have bovril or peanut butter. Which one would you like?” This gave Zoe the choice, and provided an immediate distraction from the disappointment of not having her primary desire, in this case jam, met.
I love this post from The Military Wife and Mom, “How To Say “No” to a Toddler (Without Actually Saying No). Lauren gives some really helpful tips on things you can say in place of just saying ‘no’ and talks about the importance of the words we use when talking with our children. It is well worth a read!
4) Saying “yes” can be sacrificial.
When Zoe wanted me to dance with her, all I wanted to do was sit on the sofa for a bit. I was tired. Literally the last thing I wanted to do was get up and dance. It took effort on my part to drag my weary butt off the sofa and wiggle it around.
But my reward was swift and precious. Deep belly laughs of delight from my toddler as we strutted our stuff on the dance floor that is our lounge. It was worth getting over my laziness to experience such unbridled joy from my sweet girl.
We shared a ‘moment.’ A joy-filled, giggle-inspiring, hugs and kisses generating moment. And it reminded me that when such moments come along in motherhood, you have to grab them with both hands and savour them.
Love is costly, but is there any other way?
5) You cannot earn brownie points with a toddler.
To be honest, I found this revelation a little disappointing and it probably surprised me the most out of everything I learnt on the day I said yes to every toddler request. I guess I had hoped that by spending the day doing lots of nice things for, and with her, I was somehow building up a stock of brownie points for later. I hoped that she would treasure and remember all our fun times together and be much more compliant when I asked something of her later. Like to help me set the table, or to brush her teeth without a fuss.
It was like our day had never happened. All the effort I had made to be silly and adhere to her requests had been forgotten as soon as they were done,
It turns out that toddlers still have meltdowns and get stroppy when tired. No matter how nice their day has been and how much love they’ve been showered with.
We do it for love
Initially when I realised this, I wasn’t very happy about it. That’s the honest truth. I think that whether consciously or unconsciously, I’d seriously been hoping for the easiest bed time ever, with lots of cuddles and whisperings of “I love you”. And maybe I even felt a little offended that after everything I’d done for her that day, she showed no gratitude whatsoever and seemed to throw this back in my face.
Thankfully, I quickly snapped out of it. I reminded myself that being kind and sacrificial is never meant to be about earning brownie points for later. We do it for love.
Even as I type this, the Father-heart of God is so obvious to me. He loved us when we hated him. When we refused to acknowledge his existence and continued to live for ourselves, he sacrificed everything to rescue us. It wasn’t about brownie points for Him either. It still isn’t.
We love because he first loved us.1 John 4 verse 19 (The Bible)
How I love my girls now is just a natural response to the abundance of love He first showed me.
Sometimes we have to say no, and that’s OK
Technically speaking, I didn’t say “yes” to everything Zoe requested during the day. I simply avoided saying “no”. Instead I said things like:
- You can, but later
- Yes for a few minutes
- As soon as you’ve done x, y, z you can
But sometimes you have to say “no” and that’s fine too.
When I say “no” to Zoe, I always try to explain the reason why. I think toddlers understand a lot more than we give them credit for, and if we take the time to explain our reasons, not only will they find it easier to accept the “no”, but hopefully [in time] they’ll stop asking for it.
The purpose of my “yes” challenge was not to try to replicate this every day and never say “no” again. It was as much for my benefit as it was for Zoe’s. I wanted to push myself to be more flexible. To stop being lazy and stop choosing the convenient option all the time. Just like Carl, I was in a rut, and taking on this challenge helped me to get out of it.
It’s been a few months now since I spent a day saying “yes” to all of Zoe’s requests. I still say “no” a lot and there have been lots of occasions where the comfort of the sofa, and my general laziness/tiredness has dictated my actions. But, there’s also been a lot more dance parties around the house, imprompu picnics and tea parties with teddies, games of hide and seek, extra stories, cuddles and much much laughter.
Treasuring this pre-school season
And I’m suddenly aware of how big my toddler is getting and that she’ll be starting school next year. I want to spend the next eighteen months enjoying all the treasure of these pre-school days before it all changes again. What happened the day I said “yes” to every toddler request is that I learnt to be much more flexible, choose my battles wisely and just let things go sometimes. And I think we’re all the happier for it. I’m so much more aware now of how much joy a simple “yes” can bring. Not just to Zoe, but also to me.
Would I do it all again? Yes man!
If you fancy a parenting challenge sometime (because let’s face it, being a mum does not have enough drama of its own) why don’t you give this “Yes” challenge a go.
Leave a comment below to let me know how you get on.