The failed art of the 'soft no'
"Why fight with your kids over something that’s ultimately not that important?" ... Jason Good
After witnessing me argue with one of my kids, my dad offered the following advice: “Jace, if you’re going to eventually say ‘yes’, just say it right away. Don’t say ‘no’ a bunch of times in between.”
That seemed reasonable. Why fight with your kids over something that’s ultimately not that important? I can either say yes to bringing a dozen acorns into the bath now, or I can say no 17 times with increasing conviction, wait until he cries, and then say, “Okay, fine, take your ridiculous hippy bath. I don’t care”. Kids simply don’t give up, and I don’t have the energy, stamina, patience, confidence, or commitment to be firm about an 8pm acorn soak. So why not say yes right away? Because then I would end up approving every request that wasn’t life threatening, and my children would grow into the kind of people who think it’s okay to put fruit on pizza (it's really not).
My word meant absolutely nothing anymore. A 'no' from me was the equivalent of The Magic 8-Ball’s 'ask again later'
What if I only kind of don’t want my kids to do something? I’m not going to say “No! Final answer”, walk out of the room, put on noise canceling headphones and ignore them. I’ll attempt a “no” and see how it flies - the “soft no.” That’s what I was doing anyway, and I figured it was best to be honest with myself and give my technique a formal name, and therefore legitimacy. This way, I could say to my wife, “Wait, I got this. I’m testing the waters of resistance with a soft no”, and she could roll her eyes and leave the room. Sitcom perfection.
“Can I put orange juice in my cereal?”
“No, that’s gross.”
See how easy that was? No fuss, no tears. He wanted a new bowl of cereal after tasting his concoction, but I’d rather waste food than the limited amount of precious energy I have left in my brain.
At first, I was very happy with the results. Sometimes, everything went very smoothly:
“Can I touch that HUGE slimy mushroom I found over by the sandpit?”
If pressed, I would have eventually relented to that request, but I didn’t want to get out of the hammock to supervise his mushroom touching. Had I followed my Dad’s advice, I would have been on my knees in the mulch watching my kid pet a fungus.
Unfortunately, as you might imagine, the kids learned very quickly that if they persevered just a little, the soft no would poof into a magical “sure, go ahead”. At the same time, I’d lost my feel for the “soft no”, and started doing a “dismissive no” - perhaps the worst kind of response, because it invalidates the desire of the request. My word meant absolutely nothing anymore. A “no” from me was the equivalent of The Magic 8-Ball’s “ask again later.”
So I decided to take a different piece of advice from my dad. When he was president of a university (he’s since gone back to teaching), he told me his philosophy was to “try to find a way to say yes”. Since parenting is really a management job, I figure this should work for me too. All I had to do was set the proper conditions.
“Daddy, can I put orange juice in my cereal?”
“Yes, but then you have to eat it, and if you don’t I get to pour it over your head.”
“Can I touch that mushroom?”
“Sure, but then you have to sniff it, and if you don’t I get to put it under your pillow.”
“Eww, Gross!” Hug, laugh ,hug, laugh, bliss, smiles, etc.
I guess it works wonderfully until he calls my bluff, right? Try if for yourselves and let me know how it goes.
Remember: AFAWTSY (always find a way to say yes). Tip: Don’t try to pronounce the acronym.
Jason is a fulltime stand-up comedian, writer, craver, fusser, and numerous other things he's not willing to admit to himself. He's also a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, The Huffington Post, and Atlanta Parent. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons, and enjoys making them laugh more than anyone else. Join Jason on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.
This article was reposted with permission from jasongood.net.