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Parenting Experiment No. 65

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The Subjects: My children, ages 8, 8, 6 and myself.

Hypothesis: Changing my attitude first will produce the same desired effect in my kids.

A few years ago a gentlemen asked my dad how he raised such nice kids. Everyone in the room paused, listened in, and waited for my dad to impart his words of wisdom. His reply, “I just do everything they tell me.â€?

Of course my dad was joking, but I thought about this recently as part of a solution to a problem I had with my kids. We had been fighting a lot. Not punching and kicking and pulling hair, just a lot of whining and “how comesâ€? and “why notsâ€?. We were at our wits end with each other. I pointed out to them that they were arguing with me and one another about every little thing. I told them that they need to be aware of what they were doing so they could change. If they are the type of person that argues with others all the time, no one will want to be around them.

A little light turned on for me at that moment. I wondered how much of my attitude was contributing to the discord in the home. Maybe I was as guilty as my kids of arguing at every turn. Maybe I was saying “noâ€? too often. Maybe all their whining and frustration was due to the fact that I would say “noâ€? and that would be final. I thought about how irritating it would be to me if everything I was trying to accomplish was met with an abrupt “no!â€?

The Experiment: I decided to take a cue from my dad and try to say “noâ€? as little as possible for a few days and see how it worked out. I’m not saying that I was going to give the kids whatever they wanted. Giving a kid carte blanche never did anyone any good. I’m just saying that I was going to try to pick my battles more carefully.

Over the next few days, I agreed to make pancakes instead of eggs. I gave them an extra ten minutes of video games before they started their homework and let them stay up an extra half hour to see the end of Dancing with the Stars. Some things I still held firm on, such as tooth brushing after meals, chores before playtime and no watching Ed, Ed, and Eddy. I have to maintain some order and standards!

The conclusion: I have found that giving them more choices, helping them understand the reasons I say “noâ€? when I do, and picking my battles more carefully brought the number of arguments and general frustration down significantly. It was easier when the kids were younger to just say “noâ€? and that would be the end of it. Now that my kids are getting older, they want to have more of a say in the events of their day. I realized that my parenting style needed to grow up a little, too.

My dear Parental Colleagues, have you ever tested this hypothesis? What have you done to lessen the arguments in your home?

Scientifically Yours,

Annie Payne
Experimenting on my kids since 1998 so you don’t have to.


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  • comment avatar Joanne November 8, 2007

    I’m with your dad. I just do what they tell me.

  • comment avatar Amber November 8, 2007

    With two young children, “no” still works. And I’ll keep it as long as they’ll let me. 🙂

  • comment avatar Tori :) November 8, 2007

    What a wonderful experiment. I shall have to try it my dear, wise Annie!

  • comment avatar No Cool Story November 8, 2007

    I love it when you are Scientifically mine.

    Sounds like a great experiment/results.
    Sometimes not sweating the small things makes a world of difference.
    Serenity now!

  • comment avatar adi November 8, 2007

    I read a book called Love and Logic that teaches some of the parenting techniques you are using, like giving your children choices (all choices that you can live with). For example, if you at bed time you give them lots of choices like do you want to brush your teeth in your bathroom or the downstairs bathroom? Do you want a drink in a green cup or a blue cup? Do you want your pillow fluffy or flat? Then when it’s time to go to bed and they say, “I don’t want to go to bed.” You can say, “Look at all of the choices you’ve been able to make. Now, it’s my turn and it’s time for bed. I’ve tried this and it works! It’s like you’ve made a savings account with choices. You give them some control over little things often so that when you really need there to be no choice, it’s your turn to have a choice.

    Also, I’ve tried not saying no so often. Instead I say, “You are welcome to ___________ as soon as you have _____________. One Saturday morning my daughter asked me if she could watch cartoons. Before I even said anything she said, “I know… I’m welcome to watch tv as soon as my room is clean.” All I had to say was, “Yep!” With my baby instead of saying,”Don’t throw sand!” I say Leave the sand on the ground.” I can say the same thing without saying no so much. I still have to say it sometimes but if I try not to if I can.

    It takes some extra work to think about how to say things or present things to our kids but the effort is totally worth it!

  • comment avatar elasticwaistbandlady November 8, 2007

    I used to spank my kids when I was overhwhelmed, harried, and crazy…..well, more so than I am right now. Now, I leverage and bargain with them using rewards tailored to that child.
    Sunbum=computer time
    Monkey=Extra bread serving

    And so on. It works. It really does. Good behavior is rewarded withoug the constant nagging.

  • comment avatar BadAti2d November 8, 2007

    Are you sure that you couldn’t have squeeked out an aditional 6 – 12 months by saying “no” a little louder?

    Just a thought.

  • comment avatar Annie November 8, 2007

    Believe me, I tried.

  • comment avatar Kayelyn November 8, 2007

    “I am the keeper of all that is good and wonderful in your life. Please don’t put me in a position to take it away.”

    Only when I am tired of excuses. Usually I just pick my battles.

  • comment avatar Nancy Face November 9, 2007

    Good for you! I’m impressed with the success of your experiment!

  • comment avatar Kate November 9, 2007

    Annie… rule!!!! Loved it.

  • comment avatar Aunt panub November 9, 2007


    You are good! I am so impressed by the way you work at being a better mom to your children. I do think that your dad should not get all of the credit for raising such nice children…don’t forget your wonderful mom.

  • comment avatar Crunchy Domestic Goddess November 9, 2007

    that’s a wonderful experiment and i’m glad it had such a positive outcome. it sounds like you are very tuned into your children’s needs.

    this experiment reminds me of some of the things i read in “the daily groove” – an emailed parenting tip of the day (mon-fri). you can read more about it here – – and sign up if you are interested. i always find the tips to be great food for thought. they aren’t always easily applied, but they keep me focused on trying to parent well. 🙂


  • comment avatar Millie November 10, 2007

    I love your dad’s comment. 🙂 Too cute. It really works, though, doesn’t it? Sometimes I find myself doing the same thing and forget to say “Yes” whenever I can. Thanks for the great reminder. 🙂

  • comment avatar chris p November 13, 2007

    wish that i had known about it when i raised my kids. but just wait till they get to be 14 and 20! love to all

  • comment avatar Alisha November 13, 2007

    I love this idea – I’m so tired of yelling NO all day long with my 5 and 2 year old. I have found that sometimes when I feel overwhelmed and out of patience, it helps if I just stop everything for a moment and sit on the couch with my kids and ask them questions and just talk with them for awhile. Then the atmosphere of the house usually takes a 180!

  • comment avatar Grow Your Kids December 3, 2007

    Dear Annie,

    You are so right that saying no can create a climate of hostility and anger in a family. But that is not because “no” is a bad word. In fact, it can be a very helpful and important word when it is used in conjunction with setting appropriate boundaries that establish the values we want to pass on to our children. Overuse of denial and consequences, however, can create an overload of frustration (as you stated) that is simply impossible for a child’s young brain to deal with in an appropriate way. They see no way around you and cannot cope with the disappointment if being denied. So their frustration goes straight to anger and often aggression. Making pancakes once in a while or scheduling extra fun time with the kids makes them feel loved, supported and understood. But don’t be confused – giving in on the big issues that relate to health, safety, and appropriate conduct is not the answer. Permissibility can backfire quickly as children often interpret it as meaning that their parents have given up control. Once they sense a void, they will step in quickly to regain order – but on their terms. I don’t know about any of you, but I would not (!) want my 4, 10 or 17 year-old determining the agenda in my household.

    As far as rewards/punishment/consequences – these only seem to work at the beginning, but lose their effectiveness quickly. Why? Because they communicate to children that we are allowing them to set the agenda based on their behavior and based on the things that they value. Using their loves against them only adds fuel to the fire, causing them to rebel more in order to get those things/friends/activities back. Additionally, there will come a point when you as parent have to up the ante so high, that there is nowhere left to go and your power falls flat. Kids know that…

    If you want to find out more about these ideas and how they can make a powerful change in the way you relate to your children – without rewards, punishments, or giving-in – check out our website We will be starting a new session of Power to Parent by Dr. Gordon Neufeld on January 14 in Denver, CO.

    Wishing you all the best in parenting-
    Nachshon Zohari, LCSW

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