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Tips for Creating Struggle-Free Days

By Ginger Carlson

“This way, Mommy. Do you hear the rocks crunching under my feet?”

My son Zeal darts past me on the walking trails near our home. We spend the morning snooping in the bushes, snacking on only the plumpest berries that practically fall into our palms and sprinkling “fish food” (crumbled autumn leaves) into the creek. Today is a “yes day,” a day in which I consciously choose to say yes to my child, to honor his spirit, his desires, his choices. Today there is no, “We need to…”, “Time to go…”, or “One more minute...”, and (practically) anything goes.

Regardless of whether you are a stay-at-home parent, work out of the home or some combination of the two, days can often be run by places we “should be.” Many of these places we actually need to be. Many are “omniscient-parent-have-to’s,” outings we go on for the benefit of the child: the library, playgroups, music classes and community activities.

We find ourselves running into power struggles and negative interactions in order to get to the places we feel we should be. Charles A. Smith, Ph.D., professor at Kansas State University, says, “Although saying ‘no’ tells children what not to do, only by being affirmative do we actually teach them the skills that will be important to them throughout their lives. Learning to make choices (and take responsibility for their consequences) is an important element in developing a courageous spirit and a healthy conscience.”

Families can work towards getting past some of these struggles by building connections, directing energy and discipline tactics inward, trying to understand each other better and having yes days of their own. Consider the following when planning your own yes days.

Question your agenda
Questioning your agenda can definitely serve as an extended exercise in being a more mindful parent. Getting past reflexively saying “It’s time to go” or “One more minute” can be what it takes to create an environment in which we can say yes more often.

I’ve often found myself entering into a power struggle with my own child as we are getting dressed, getting buckled in or just plain trying to get out the door in the morning so we can go somewhere that he will enjoy. But if I impose my agenda, that only trains him to look to others for direction, rather than himself.

Consider holding a yes day or even a yes moment on the spot if there is nowhere you really have to be. Then you can pay attention to the quality of each experience as it comes.

Honor sovereignty
Sovereignty for a child means gaining authority over himself – a lifelong goal of any whole person. If children live in a world in which they can be confident -- one that recognizes their ideas and desires and that these ideas are not “childish” but valuable and valued – then they will become the confident beings we hope for. Like all people, children are entitled to
be loved and to find strength in that love. One way we can give them that entitlement is to let them have control over their situation.

Yes days can give children the space and time they need to fully develop into who they will become. When we consciously choose to listen to our children, we gain the opportunity to stay connected with one another. If your child explains that a mouse lives in every clock turning the clock hands and getting his tail stuck each time it moves (causing the “tick”), consider it an opportunity to gain insight into your child’s exploration of the world and how she solves problems, rather than correcting her observation (which can often be difficult for parents who are trying to “seize the teachable moments”).

Free yourself from “have-to’s”
Home is a haven, one in which we can be sheltered from the barrage of outside stimuli. “One of the best ways to have struggle-free ‘yes days’ is to significantly reduce the child's pressure points -- school, fitting in, and adults nagging them,” says John Bishop, executive director of Accent on

If at all practical, give yourself permission to be free from your schedule every now and then. Follow your child’s lead, and spend the afternoon curled up in bed reading books. Cancel your meeting and spend some one-on-one time sipping cocoa in your pj’s. Remember that the world we are creating for our children will directly affect the world they will create as they grow into thinking adults. Being pulled away from something a child deems important “just because” is a direct instruction that then allows him to run his own agenda on others as he grows up.

You can’t please everyone all the time
If you are parenting multiple children, you surely know that the old adage “you can’t please everyone all of the time” rings true. Consider what Michelle Perino and her husband David do every year. While juggling the schedules of their two children, they plan what their family calls “yes trips.” These trips are one-on-one time with mom or dad, without a sibling to compete with. They spend the specified date doing only what the child wants to do: going to the beach, stopping for a hike or at a lookout on the way, eating when and where their child wants to.

Michelle says, “These ‘yes days’ have been a reminder that even though we are a unit, we are all individuals. We need to take the time to work on each individual relationship, because the pieces add up to more than the whole.”

Consider the ripples
As we learn to say yes to each other and to the ebb and flow of the world, perhaps yes days are only training for us to live yes lives. Even moreso, perhaps our yes lives will be the impression left on our children who in turn create a yes world.

Saying yes and affirming our children as human beings is a gift to everyone involved. Your child is fed by his choices’ being honored, by not having time limits or have-to’s. You as parents are fed by watching your child’s pleasure in these simple moments, by seeing the world through shared eyes and breathing in your child’s joy.

So go ahead, breathe it in. Say yes to your kids. Create the world you want to see by starting with your own kids and watch the blossoming.

Ginger Carlson is a writer, educational consultant and owner of HomeAcademy, a homeschooling consultancy. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband Raphael and son Zeal, where they frequently reap the benefits of saying “yes” to each other.

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