You know how sometimes the most profound conversations with your kids occur in the midst of totally mundane activities? Well, last night I was parking the car at the grocery store, and my 8 year old daughter says to me in a voice full of awe, “Mom, did you know that some kids assume their parents are going to say yes?”
Sensing a bigger context here, I asked a few questions. She had spent some time over the weekend at a new friend’s house. Turns out that she was really and truly amazed that her mom said yes with such regularity that her friend no longer bothered to ask her for permission to do things like eat cookies before dinner or watch cartoons.
Quicker than you could say ‘there’s no place like home’, I felt like the Wicked Witch of the West. Because unlike her new friend’s mom, I say no.
There was no manipulative intent on my daughter’s part. (By now I can spot that a mile away.) She was just truly astounded by the notion of such a cooperative parent.
Well, let me tell you, THAT sure got me a-thinkin’.
I must confess, my first thought was a feeble hope that it takes a while for her make the next logical mental leap into realizing that if she doesn’t ask first, I can’t say no.
My next thought was a memory of something I’d read in a business article a few months ago. (I’m sorry, but as so often happens I have no clue where it was, so I can’t give you the reference.) The basic concept is this: when your supervisor makes a request of you, don’t say no. Even if the granting the request is totally impossible or outrageous.
Instead, take a minute to consider what it would take for you to be able to say yes.
So for example, let’s say your supervisor asks if you can complete a major project one month earlier than the agreed upon deadline.
Instead of saying “No way, forget about it, it can’t be done,” you take a minute to think about it.
“Well, in order for that to be accomplished I’d need a team of ten additional staff members and $40,000 over the allotted budget.”
You have shown a good faith attempt to be a team player, you are not killing the project, and the responsibility for saying yes or no to your suggestion bounces back to the boss.
Hmmm . . . I dream of the blissful applications of this novel concept in my home. . .
“Mom, I want this new two hundred dollar Lego set!”
Usual response: “No way.”
New, intriguing response: “It’s a neat one, huh? Well, I wonder how you could save up enough money to buy it?”
We go on to have a mother-son bonding experience as we discuss money-making ventures like mowing lawns, selling old toys at a yard sale, or asking grandma. He feels heard and supported, and eventually gets his Legos.
I don’t have to be the Witch or come up with two hundred bucks. How’s that for a win-win?
Nice daydream, eh? Well, not to worry. Since I like to present only tried and true information in my articles, I put it to the real test today.
SON: Mom, can I have this huge sugar laden piece of artificially colored bubble gum I got from the bus driver? (ok, actually it was just ‘Mom, can I chew this gum?’ It says something about my control freakiness that he evens asks me things like this, doesn’t it? Poor kid.)
THE NEW ME: (very cheerfully) Sure honey!!
As long as you brush your teeth for 3 full minutes when you are finished.
SON: Aw, Mom, come on! Three whole minutes!! If I have Trident do I have to brush my teeth?
ME: (sweetly) Nope, because Trident doesn’t have sugar in it.
Being both smart and toothbrush phobic, he quickly added up the score.
He threw the bus driver gum away and grabbed 3 pieces of Trident.
And I never had to say the word NO.
Hmm, those business folks appear to be onto something BIG! Granted, it does take more time. But I think it’s worth it, for two reasons:
First, I don’t want to be remembered as the Mom Who Always Said NO, and without a lobotomy to remove the control freak part of my brain there’s no chance of me being immortalized as the Mom Who Always Said YES.
Second, I believe this process becomes internalized in our children. It encourages problem-solving and creative thinking, and I bet it wears a nice groove in the bridge-building pathways of a developing brain.
Kids could grow up seeing opportunities rather than obstacles . . . challenges rather than limitations . . . partners rather than enemies.
In the words of John Lennon . . . Imagine.
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