May 2017: The Power of YES and NO

Yes and NoTwo of the most important words that we teach our toddlers and young children are the words YES and NO.  These two little words wield immense power, serving to both protect and encourage our children as they find their way in the world.  As parents we say “NO!” repeatedly when our child edges too close to a hot stove or a busy street. We cheer and say “YES!” when our toddler takes his first tentative steps or babbles her first few words.  Typically our dance between the words YES and NO continues as our children move through childhood and adolescence. Who among us can’t relate to issuing a firm and emphatic NO in response to a wide-eyed plea to watch a movie that we know will generate nightmares and sleepless nights?  How many times have we sighed and reluctantly surrendered to YES as we relinquish the car keys to our brand new teen driver?  For parents there seems to be an infinite and invisible line that we tug and release as we navigate an often unsafe world in an effort to guide our children toward independence.  We constantly search for just the right balance between holding the line tightly and letting it go.   

Two of the most simple yet profound words in our language:  YES and NO.  Our job is to become intentional in recognizing and capitalizing on the tremendous power of these words. 

The word “NO” is rarely celebrated.  In fact it is often considered to be negative. It can feel selfish, create conflict, and lead to hurt feelings.  Hearing the word NO can be difficult, however, saying the word NO takes courage whether we turn down an invitation to a party or respond to a loved one’s request to dog sit for the weekend – again! We want our kids to practice the word NO as they become more independent and are confronted by adolescent impulses, external influences and accessible temptations. We want them to say NO to those who mistreat themselves or others.  We want them to say NO when their peers make poor choices for their bodies and health. 

As parents, not only do we continue saying NO to our kids (even when saying YES might make our lives easier) but we also need to become good at saying NO for ourselves as well.  It is important to say NO and take a stand when we can no longer overextend ourselves.  The word NO can create healthy boundaries and protect us from opposing interests and influences that may sacrifice our own needs and sense of well-being.  Practicing the art of NO allows us to create space for what we truly want and helps us to establish that all important work-life balance.    

As we practice saying NO we must also consider being open to YES.  Humans relish routine and predictability which can sometimes lead to a life of complacency. Stretching ourselves to say YES can propel us beyond our comfort zones, leading to new opportunities, novel experiences and bigger more vibrant lives. We want our children to be curious, yet many adults are afraid to take the risk of YES. The spirit of YES generates momentum.  Saying YES opens the door to imagination where creativity and divergent thinking flourishes.  YES commits us to trying new things, making mistakes, and sometimes even laughing at ourselves.  Of course saying YES can make our hearts pound and palms sweat as we agree to sign up for a salsa dancing competition or serve as the new public relations liaison for the neighborhood watch committee.  But YES can also empower us to speak our truth and stand up for what we believe. 

Two simple words that we have learned and repeated since childhood – YES and NO. Both are easy to read yet often difficult to say. Both have the capacity to serve us well. Both require us to become vulnerable.  I encourage parents, adult leaders, and role models for our children to trust your inner voice.  Learning when to say YES and when to say NO is critical for maintaining a balanced life and, ultimately, for empowering our children to navigate their own lives and the world with confidence. 


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