Positive parenting can sometimes be misunderstood as saying yes all the time, or being a "hippy" parent-friend. But all that does is lead to spoiled children—no one wants to stunt the growth of their child's character by being too lenient or too indulgent. I try my best to be a positive parent while still challenging my children to deal with the occasional disappointment of not getting what they want. What no one wants to admit is that if your kids don’t "hate" you at some point, you're doing something wrong. That's not to say that your child should hate you, but if at some point your little one is not denied something they want, they will never be presented with the opportunity to find an alternative solution, or to practice their coping skills. It's difficult to walk that fine line between having a friendly relationship with your child, and confusing the relationship by trying to be their friend. My girls are almost 2 and 4 years old, so now is the prime time for the three of us to find a positive balance that works for our family. I try to stick to these five guidelines when I say yes:
Have they earned it?
At 2 and 4 years old, my kids thrive on acknowledgment and recognition. I reward good behavior with trips to the park, "Elsa dollars" (play money with a picture of my daughter dressed as Elsa from the movie Frozen), treats and privileges. I look for my kids showing effort in managing their attitude, behavior, and handling disagreements between themselves and with me. When they ask for something, these are the first things I take into consideration.
Does it align with family goals?
Family is just another way to describe a team. And teams operate best when all members are working toward the same goal, sacrificing a little for a bigger purpose. Using activities and games that encourage teamwork helps to foster this idea in kids. We work together to make sure everyone is ready to go to school and work on time. Evyn will put out clothes for Quinn, and Quinn will put all the shoes by the door. I include them in saving for a special outing by giving them money to put in our “Pizza on Friday” jar. So when Evyn is asking for several toys and has earned a treat with a good attitude and great behavior, I tell her she can have just one toy so we can put extra money in the jar. She's usually okay with putting almost everything back.
Does it encourage self-motivation?
It's very difficult to teach intrinsic motivation. You have to present your little ones with opportunities to work hard on something and be proud of it just for the work he or she put in. This takes time, but it is extremely important to encourage that they set a goal and work hard to meet it. I do this through arts and crafts. With Evyn, we will think of a really cool art project to do by looking through craft pins on Pinterest. Once we get an idea, we sit down together and plan how we will do it, including listing the supplies we will need. After a game of finding all the supplies around the house, we complete the project and display it on the counter. In the beginning, there was whining about the project taking too long, but now the whole process is special time just for her and I while Quinn is napping. So when she asks for something, and has a good reason for wanting that thing, the answer is always yes.
Do they have the right attitude?
My biggest pet peeve is rude and entitled behavior in kids. Challenging a false sense of entitlement can be tricky when you are also trying to be a positive parent and foster self-worth and confidence. Focus on what you want them to learn—money must be earned, and people work hard for the things they have. You can say yes without spoiling your kiddos as long as the expectation is that they use polite language, and understand that "ask and ye shall receive" doesn’t apply to the new iPhone.
What about when you have to say no?
Sometimes the answer has to be no. This presents a great opportunity for your little ones to practice handling disappointment and their coping skills. Evyn is really good at trying to talk you into saying yes, and it's kind of funny. One day after a pretty gnarly tantrum over a game she was playing with her sister, she asked for a treat, and I said, “No.” Without a blink, she said, "It wasn't a tantrum, it was just a little attitude," and that she should be able to have her treat because she told her sister she was sorry. The answer was still “No,” but it was nice to see the wheels turning in her head.
While kids need to be given boundaries and hear the word “no” occasionally, there are many instances when saying yes can be beneficial to both their personal growth and your sanity. I use these five guidelines to keep myself on track with the kind of parent I want to be and to keep myself from losing my mind playing chief of police in my house.