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I’m about to share with you the best advice I ever received in regards to parenting a toddler, which, if you’ve ever been around a toddler, you know is comparable to charming a cobra, wrangling a pig greased with Crisco, or climbing Mount Everest.  This is very valuable advice; you’re going to want to write it down.

The key to a happy, (relatively) well-behaved 3-year-old is this:

Say yes to everything you can.

When your knee-jerk reaction is “no,” say yes instead.

“Can I wear my pajamas to church?”  Yes.

“Can I bring my trains in the bath?” Yes.

“Can I paint right now?” Yes.

“Can I bring my lunch in the car?”  Yes.

“Can I go play in the rain?  Stomp in the mud?  Roll in that puddle? Bring this fistful of gravel inside?”


As you can imagine, there’s a condition, otherwise the whole world would look like it was dominated by a Lego block-Goldfish cracker-Thomas the Train-dirty clothes tornado.  In other words, my living room.

The condition is this:  Say yes to everything you can, provided you can say no to what you must.

Saying yes as much as possible is not about placating a child. It’s not  giving them anything they want to eliminate all their reasons for fit-throwing.  (Some of Madeline’s first words were courtesy of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want.” She could sing it by the time she was 2.)

Saying yes is about working really, really hard to make sure that your child’s day is more positive than negative.

A toddler’s whole world is “No.”

Don’t touch that.
Don’t whine.
Don’t pick your nose.
Get your fingers out of your mouth.
No we can’t watch another video.
No you are not excused.
Don’t shout.
Don’t throw that.
Don’t be rude.
Don’t disobey.
Don’t push your brother.
No you can’t have more cookies.
No you can’t skip your nap.
No I can’t come to preschool with you.
No we cannot buy that toy today.

Even that is a little misleading.  It actually sounds more like this:


Three-year-olds are testing boundaries and asserting their little independent selves.  The very nature of being three means that a child runs into walls, into “no’s,” all day long.  They push here, and mom pushes back.  They push there, and mom pushes back.  It’s part of growing up – a rite of passage.

But telling a bright-eyed, wonder-filled three-year-old “no” and “don’t” and “stop” all day long is a sure way to crush their bright-eyed, wonder-filled spirit.

They grow weary.
They get frustrated.
They get jaded.

And weary, frustrated, jaded toddlers are whiney, cranky, fit-throwing toddlers.  Kids have bad days, too.  Kids act out on bad days, too.  They pout and slouch and mope, sass and snap and fight – just like their parents.

There’s no way around it -  as parents we have to say “no” to a lot of things.  Saying “no” is largely about teaching our offspring what is and is not socially acceptable.  (But mostly it’s about keeping them alive. ”NO YOU CANNOT STICK THAT HANGER IN THE OUTLET!”)

So, to preimpt the inevitable weary, frustrated tantrum, say “yes” to everything you can.  Your child will learn the word “no” all by himself.  Work hard to teach him yes.  Even if it means extra effort, extra cleaning, extra hustle.  Even if it means that people look at you judgementally when your child wears a batman costume in a nice restaurant in the middle of July.  The batman costume is not a hill worth dying on.

Delight them.  Put some positive into their day.  Show them you’re on their side.  Say yes.

(Read Part II here: “Through Children’s Eyes“)

  • Pingback: Through Children’s Eyes | Kate Conner

  • Liz R.

    Beautifully said! I so agree with this and often times that means funny looks from friends when I give my 3 year old her 4th or 5th fruit snack, let her play outside in just a diaper, take her to the store with matted hair from her experimenting with hand soap and making her and the cat’s hair pretty. When I open those fruit snacks in the store before buying them or because she still has her baba. She has fun when she gets the scissors and trim the cats hair or helps mommy mop the floor by dumping a puddle of water on the tile and swishing it around with her toy mop. Of course I am always there with a careful eye on her so she’s safe, but I totally agree you have to pick your battles especially with toddlers and let them learn and have fun! :)

  • Melissa C Karrer

    I love this! You need a share button link! I tried to click the FB button at top, but it just took me to your page – so I added you! I have 3 girls ages 1, 2, & 3! Love this blog!

  • Tami

    Amen and amen and amen!!!!!  Well said!

  • Lorraine Richie

    so true!!!  I’m working on saying yes more and the times that I have (inspite of wanting to say no) the excitement on their faces and in their voices was priceless!!!!

  • Sharla

    I like this. I did a lot of baby-proofing in my house so my kid can mostly do what she wants.

  • Wanda Dulski

    you’re taking the right path.  

  • Adriane Herring

    I’ve thought about doing this but I’m afraid it will backfire!  I hate saying NO so often.  And now some how, he’s learned the word “never” (which I think  is from one of this cartoons) and so when I say, “Aaron, it’s time to get dressed.  Take off your pajamas please.” he responds with “NEVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”.  Yeah.  Fun.

  • Maryh

    Yes, Yes , Yes!!!!  I’ve got three kids, 12, 10 and 7.  Poor 12 y.o., she heard “no” a lot.  It’s good to be the baby, she hears “yes”.  Guess which one is neurotic and which one goes with the flow?  Who cares if they have a mask and snorkel on in the grocery store?  Not me.  Soon enough they will have to have Abercrombie everything.  Until then, I’ll enjoy the snorkel.

  • Sharon Tanya Brown

    Wow….just wow…..wish I’d done it this way, Kate!

  • Aly Stemple Brown

    I have a 4 month old who is already so spirited and this great advice for me to hear now.  Thank you so much!!

  • Annie

    Thank You!  I agree.  I find that it can be hard to find the balance of yes and no.  Yes we can color, no we cannot use crayons on the wall.   My mom says this is true not just when they’re little, but when they’re teenagers too!  She says you have to find SOMETHING you can say yes to.

  • Adele

    Love this.
    Have you ever seen the glorious movie, ‘The Boys are Back’? This post reminds me of Clive Owen’s simple approach to parenting, ‘Just say yes’
    Of course, sometimes they are sticking things in that power outlet!

  • Rose Jackson

    all i can say is, “YES!” …hehehe

  • Sarah LaPage

    love this Kate!

  • Saconner68

    EXACTLY!  My beautiful and fabulous 18 year old Honor Graduate is an example of as much Yes as was (and is) possible.  It makes me so happy and proud to see how positive and proud she is. The extra work (and judgement) was so worth it!

  • Robyn Bray

    I agree!

  • Pingback: Mommy of Yes « Little Wonders

  • Dawn Shelton

    Reading this today changed our afternoon.  I needed the reminder.  As a mom of four, the oldest almost 15 and the youngest 2, it can be a challenge to run in many different circles.  ”No” can appear to be the easiest answer but I learned early that being a good parent often means doing the harder thing.  Yes pays bigger dividends!

  • Alexi

    Wow I thought this was great advice. As a kid who was definitely told “no” a lot, I had to learn for myself that positivity. I think this same idea can be applied to life, too! It’s kind of like in that movie “Yes Man”. Even though that is an extreme example, it still shows how saying yes can generally do  a lot of good, but as long as you don’t over-do it.