The power of Yes Day and how to implement one

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As a psychologist, I have seen firsthand the challenges that families face when it comes to finding ways (and time!) to connect with one another. With the many demands of daily life, it can be challenging to carve out quality time to spend together. Between work, school, extracurricular activities, and various other commitments, it can feel like every moment of the day is accounted for. And eventually, you find yourself running from obligation to obligation, turning down requests from your kids to play, saying no on repeat, and generally being a bit of a fun killer.

It’s exhausting. And it can leave everyone in the family feeling disconnected and lonely. This is why, when families come to see me and they are feeling overwhelmed, over-scheduled and stuck in a bit of a rut – I recommend they try a Yes Day.

What is a Yes Day?

A Yes Day is a designated day when parents agree to say “yes” to their children’s requests – within reason of course! During a Yes Day, children are encouraged to make choices about how they spend their time, what they eat, and what activities they participate in. Parents can set boundaries and rules to ensure that the requests are safe and reasonable, but for the most part, the goal is to allow children to take the lead and make choices for themselves. While it may sound overwhelming at first, a Yes Day can actually be a super fun and meaningful way for families to strengthen their relationships and create lasting memories.

The Benefits of a Yes Day

There are numerous benefits to incorporating a Yes Day into your family routine. But mostly, I find it to be a great circuit breaker when you are stuck in a “no” loop. It helps you to reflect upon just how often you are saying “no” and whether you always need to. Here are some other benefits.

It empowers children

One of the primary benefits of Yes Day is that it allows children to feel empowered and in control. Many children feel like they are always being told what to do, and that much of their lives is out of their control. So having a day where they can take the lead and make choices for themselves can be incredibly validating. It helps children feel heard and understood. And when they know their voices and opinions matter, they are more likely to develop a positive sense of self and feel more confident in their ability to communicate their needs and desires.

It builds communication skills

Yes Day can also be an effective way to foster healthy communication and negotiation skills. When a child makes a request that is not feasible or safe, you can have a conversation with them to help them understand why their request can’t be granted. Or, if they have siblings, they will likely have to work together on Yes Day to accommodate everyone’s wishes. This teaches children the importance of compromise and cooperation, and helps them develop their communication skills. By negotiating with their parents or siblings, children learn to see things from a different perspective and get a natural opportunity to develop empathy.

It builds problem solving skills

When given the opportunity to make their own decisions, children can come up with creative ways to solve problems and think outside the box. For example, if a child wants to go to a water park on Yes Day but the weather isn’t appropriate, they may have to think creatively to come up with alternative indoor activities. This can help children develop a sense of independence and self-reliance, which are important skills for success in adulthood. When children are allowed to think for themselves and come up with creative solutions to problems, it can also promote confidence and self-esteem, as they see that their ideas and choices can have a positive impact on their lives.

It strengthens family relationships

Research has shown that spending quality time together as a family can have a significant impact on children’s emotional and psychological well-being. Children who have positive family relationships are more likely to have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower rates of anxiety and depression. And Yes Day is a super fun and stress-free way to bond as a family.

Allowing children to choose activities or meals, gives you some insight into your children’s interests and preferences and helps you know them more deeply. This can help parents create opportunities for future family outings or activities that everyone can enjoy. And, it can also help parents and children develop a sense of appreciation for one another, as they learn to value and appreciate each other’s needs and desires.

It’s a fun way to meet your child’s attachment needs

All humans have a need for both emotional connection and autonomy. By giving children the freedom to make their own choices, we meet their need for autonomy. But it also shows our children that we trust and respect them. This fosters a sense of emotional security and safety in children, as they know that their parents are there to support and guide them, even when they are making their own choices. When children feel emotionally secure and connected to us, it allows for open communication and enhanced trust within the relationship. Yes Day meets a child’s need for both autonomy and connection, while strengthening your parent child bond – that’s definitely a win!

It reduces stress and invites joy into your life!

Finally, Yes Day can be a fun and exciting experience for the whole family. It allows parents and children to let go of stress and enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed and non-judgmental environment. The memories created during Yes Day can last a lifetime and can provide a strong foundation for future interactions between you and your children.

How to Implement a Yes Day

If you’re interested in incorporating a Yes Day into your family routine, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Set clear boundaries

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I talk about Yes Day, is “Are there rules?” And yes, there absolutely are! We are having fun, not promoting anarchy! However, we do try to have as few rules as possible, so we can still give our children plenty of autonomy and freedom. In our family there are usually just two rules to follow on Yes Day.

  1. We will not say yes to anything that is unsafe – for you or for others. This includes not just physical safety, but also emotional safety, as well as the safety of our own and other’s belongings.
  2. Nothing we say yes to can have an impact on anyone or anything that lasts beyond the day. This rules out things like bringing home a pet, painting the house, travelling too far from home, or getting a tattoo! 😉

In your family it is entirely up to you what rules and boundaries you set on Yes Day. You may like to set a budget, put limits on screen time, or limit other activities you know can be difficult or create problems for your child. However, keep in mind that setting too many limits on Yes Day kind of defeats the purpose, so I recommend only setting necessary rules for your family – focus on safety and wellbeing (yours and theirs!) and let the other stuff go – just for one day!

2. Keep an open mind

It’s also important to be flexible and open-minded when it comes to your children’s requests. While you may be hesitant to allow certain activities or meals, it’s important to remember that the goal of the Yes Day is to let your children take the lead and make choices for themselves. By being open to their requests, you can help foster a sense of trust and mutual respect between you and your children.

Your first instinct may be to say no. But I invite you to get a little bit curious on Yes Day and think about why you feel compelled to say no? Is it really necessary? Is it an issue of safety? Will it matter next week, or even tomorrow? And even if it is a little risky, can you find ways to make it safer? How can you set boundaries around the activity your child is requesting so they can engage in it safely?

Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in a pattern of saying no without thinking about why. Yes Day is an opportunity for you to break out of that pattern and find ways to say yes more often!

3. Plan ahead

It’s also a good idea to plan your Yes Day in advance, so everyone knows what to expect. In our house, Yes Day happens once a year at around the same time – it is our last hurrah before school goes back after Summer break. We mark it on our calendar and speak about it often with the children, so they can think about what they’d like to do. This helps us prepare for any activities or meals the children may request and ensures we have the necessary resources and supplies on hand. There’s nothing worse than deciding to go somewhere and then discovering it’s closed! So I recommend you plan ahead and book any tickets you may need in advance to ensure the day goes smoothly.

Got questions about Yes Day? Let’s answer them!

Inevitably, after I discuss Yes Day with parents, they have questions. A ton of questions! And many of them start with, “But what if my child…” Us parents are great at thinking about all the things that could go wrong! So here are a few of the most common questions I receive and how we handle these situations in my own family. But I also want to say this:

For the most part, your child is likely to make pretty good choices on Yes Day. In my experience, many of the What Ifs that parents are concerned about don’t actually end up happening. Children are so grateful for Yes Day. And when we give them some autonomy and trust that they are capable of making good decisions for themselves, they usually rise to the occasion. They also mostly understand that this is a special day, and that the regular rules and routines they are familiar with will return tomorrow. So just relax, try to keep an open mind and enjoy your day!

What if they ask to spend lots of money/buy lots of toys?

Lots of parents worry about this one. In my experience, both with my own kids and with my clients, this actually rarely happens. Kids are so excited by the opportunity to do fun things with you all day long, that this is usually what they ask for. However, if you’re worried about spending or really don’t want a bunch of new toys in your house, then by all means set a budget or put some limits in place for your child. How you manage this will of course, be entirely up to you! But for the record, my kids have never in 5 years of Yes Days, asked to buy toys.

I have multiple children, what do I do if they all want to do different things?

Again, how you handle this is entirely up to you. In our family there are 4 children of varying ages and we ask each child to choose one activity they would really love to do. Sometimes this means that not everyone loves every activity we do during the day. But for the most part, it all works out in the wash and even the activities that some children have been reluctant to do initially, have ended in laughter and lots of fun! There are also plenty of opportunities throughout the day for us to say yes to other requests the kids think of too! So all of the children generally get an opportunity to do things they love.

What if they just eat sugar all day and then they get sick?

When children are given the freedom to make their own choices, they may experience the negative consequences of making choices that are not in their best interest. So yes, if your child eats too much junk food on Yes Day, they may feel sick or experience a sugar crash later in the day. But this can be a valuable learning experience for them, as they learn the importance of self-control and moderation. It may even help them make more thoughtful and responsible decisions in the future. So unless there is a medical reason why your child is unable to eat sugar, it’s probably ok to allow it for one day.

What if all they want to do is watch screens all day long?

Can they? Again, this is entirely up to you (and them of course!). We said yes to a Harry Potter movie marathon one year. And we’ve never had a request to watch a screen on Yes Day ever again. The children ended up feeling like it was a waste of their Yes Day. In fact, they decided half way through to abandon the movies and go and do something else. Once again, allowing children to make choices for themselves allows them to experience the natural consequences of those choices. And natural consequences are generally much better at teaching lessons than we could ever be.

That being said, I would encourage you to make a choice that is best for your child and your family. There are are a number of reasons why you may choose to put some limits in place around screen time. Perhaps the negative consequences of allowing your child to watch a screen or play video games all day long are just not worth it for you or your child. You know them best. And you can set whatever boundaries you need to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your child.

Go and try it!

I encourage you to consider implementing a Yes Day with your own family. While it may require some planning and flexibility, the benefits can be well worth the effort. Yes Day provides a break from the routine and allows children to indulge in activities that they truly enjoy. This can promote a sense of happiness and well-being, which can have a positive impact on their mental health and overall development. But it also has a positive benefit for you and your mental health. After all, who doesn’t wish they could always say yes to their child and see the joy that brings them! By prioritising your relationship with your child and saying “yes” to their desires, you can create a deeper connection that will benefit your family for years to come. So what are you waiting for?! Get out there and give it a try!


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