Reading the recently featured Beware of Trivial Inconveniences I realized that this is the method that makes Say Yes really work and thus this is Practical Advice Backed By Deep Theories.

The trick of saying "yes" instead of "no" is *not* to say less often "no" at the cost at allowing things when you say "yes". That just trades the stress of saying "no" (staying consequent despite a clash of wills) against the effort to fulfill, monitor, pay or clean up after the "yes".

Soft paternalism applied to parenting means saying "Yes, but" or "Yes, later" or "Yes, if". This signals to the child that you understand his/her wish but also supplies some context the child may not be aware of. It reduces your cost of saying "yes" at the expense of a cost to cash in the "yes" for the child.

Disclaimer: This 'cost reversal' works if

  • the condition is no artificial construction to make the "yes" into an effective "no" (in which case the child will learn this pattern of disguised "no" and might e.g. feel cheated. Though this may still be more polite than saying plain "no".
  • The condition/context for the "yes" provides real information for the child.
  • The child is old enough to at least grasp the concept of a condition (is in its Zone of Proximal Development)


I use this pattern...

For my oldest (10) when he wants to do some larger/elaborate projects and e.g. asks "may I organize event X" I don't want to stiffle his motivation to show responsibility, learn required tasks and socialize. But I also don't want to do significant parts of this. So I e.g. say: "Yes, but you have to consult the calendar for a time, write the invitation yourself and clean up afterwards".

For my second oldest (7) if he wants some book or other piece of parent stuff like bowls I request: "yes, but put it back afterwards".

This will not work on his younger brother (5) who is not yet disciplined enough to remember to put things back afterwards. For him a limitation like "yes, but not now; after I have done the dishes" is more applicable. It a) places a condition he can monitor (or is motivated to monitor) and b) it moves the fulfillment into a position where I am more willing to do/allow/give it and c) when he forgets about it I got rid of it at no cost.

When applying this to the youngest (2) the conditions need to be most simple as he doesn't understand the condition yet. He hears the "yes but bla bla" and recognizes that it somehow means that he doesn't get it (yet). His reaction is mostly the same as to a "no" but I can talk some more to him to make clear that it is no "no" (and his brothers support this: "don't cry, you will get it"). So this montivates him to learn the linguistic concept of a conditional.

One still has to be consequent in standing behind the context/condition and not be turned around to a plain "yes".

And for older children you still have to be careful what you say. This is already hard for the oldest who is constantly trying to optimize for the conditions or bend the wording of the conditions.

Such a semi-permissive parenting is also called Authoritative Parenting and generally more successful in preparing children for adult life. See e.g. (The authoritative parenting style: Warmth, rationality, and high standards: A guide for the science-minded parent)

EDIT: Fixed some typos of this obviously still occassionally read post.


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I'm amused by the idea of paternalism in parenting. We've really gone full circle.

Pleased to hear, but could you explain why/how?

This is unusually upvoted for a discussion post with so few comments.

Just by the etymology of "paternalism" being applied to its original source - parents acting like parents.

[-][anonymous]6y 2

Resilience to violence in children :

Personal characteristics of the child (i.e. sense of self, mastery of tasks, sense of humor, security). Amazingly, there are children who seem to have a strong sense of self and are able to weather an enormous amount of violence in their lives by drawing on internal reserves and resources. These children seem to understand that the violence isn’t their fault, feel successful in various areas of their life (school, sports, friendships), and may have strong sense of racial or ethnic pride. High intelligence has also been associated with positive adaptation in the face of adversity.

Presence or absence of loving and supportive adults in their lives. The single most critical factor in how children weather exposure to domestic violence is the presence of at least one loving and supportive adult in their life.

I reckon it's appropriate if the kid is inherently resilient or if someone else is a loving and supporting adult in their life. Otherwise I wouldn't risk it. There's a fine line between soft paternalism and domestic violence.

The single most critical factor in how children weather exposure to domestic violence is the presence of at least one loving and supportive adult in their life.

But could you explain where the connection to domestic violence is in this post?

My parents did this when I was a kid (or at least I specifically remember my mom doing it a lot) and I turned out great!