Say Yes to No

Updated on February 27, 2018
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Stephen Bush is a consulting and career training expert. He is the CEO and Founder of AEX Commercial Financing Group.

Saying Yes to No

I have emphasized the challenge of using "yes" and "no" more effectively in several other articles. But I felt that the importance of a parent education program called "Say Yes to No" (SYTN) easily justified a page of its own.

Let me start by saying that I do not have any personal or business relationships with Say Yes to No. I have chosen to write about this topic because I think it is so important for children to have the best possible learning environment. Rarely have I encountered a more complicated problem that already has the makings of a feasible solution.

Parenting has never been easy, and the SYTN coalition of teachers and parents was formed to help with the growing challenge of saying "No" to children in positive and instructive ways. Say Yes to No started with a book written by Dr. David Walsh — "No: Why Kids of All Ages Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It."

Learn to say 'no' to the good so you can say 'yes' to the best.

— John Maxwell

The Marshmallow Test Started it All

Self-control, no and success in life are all related. The Marshmallow Test has turned out to be one of the most effective behavioral studies ever conducted. Dr. David Walsh has drawn upon this test and other relevant data in his book about "No."

What Is the Marshmallow Test?

The Marshmallow Test was originally conducted at Stanford University by Walter Mischel about 50 years ago with four-year old kids. They were given one marshmallow (in some cases, a different treat was used) that they could eat whenever they wanted if they chose to, but they were told that they would also be given a second marshmallow if they did not eat the first marshmallow for 15 minutes.

About one-third of the kids waited and received a second marshmallow as a reward while two-thirds ate the first marshmallow before the allotted time. The test has been replicated many times since then. Perhaps more importantly, this simple learning experiment has helped parents and educators to connect the dots between self-control, willpower, and marshmallows (or other rewards).

A particularly useful aspect of this experiment is that the study looked at these same kids many years later to see how they did in school and in life. In general, the kids who chose to wait for the second marshmallow did better in terms of behavior and success — the kids who waited the 15 minutes later exhibited higher SAT scores, less behavior problems and greater overall success.

Why marshmallows? Actually there was some choice involved. At the beginning of the test, each four-year old was asked to pick a treat from marshmallows, cookies (I only saw references to Oreos) and pretzels. Whatever they chose became the treat offered as the immediate and delayed reward.

Teaching Self-Control

No: Why Kids of All Ages Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It

Dr. David Walsh wrote what has become the basis for the "Say Yes to No" coalition efforts to help parents and teachers get over the difficulty of saying no to children. No: Why Kids of All Ages Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It is an extremely readable book that is about much more than saying no (although that would be enough). It is also a common sense guide to help with one of the most challenging parenting and learning issues. Dr. Walsh is featured in the video below.

Here is one comment about Say Yes to No and David Walsh's book:

This is a really important book. This is an important conversation for us all to have, because at the heart of it, it is about raising healthy, self-reliant children, successful in school and in life.

— Joann Knuth, Executive director, Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals

Dr. David Walsh Talks About Willpower

"One thing that Say Yes To No focuses on is making parents aware of the impact that the media and advertising has on our children. But it doesn't stop there. It takes it a step further and gives us the game plan of techniques and strategies that we can use in rearing our children to minimize the impact of those negative forces."

(Dr. James Wooten, Superintendent of Muscle Shoals City Schools, Muscle Shoals, Alabama)

The Power of a Positive No: Save The Deal, Save The Relationship and Still Say No

The critical importance of learning how to use "No" more effectively is not just relevant to parenting. Improvements are needed throughout our society in this area. If you haven't done so already, I urge you to take a closer look at the work of William Ury — including The Power of a Positive No because it is directly relevant to "Say Yes to No." You will also find his other books to be equally helpful in solving communication problems. William Ury knows from experience that when it is necessary to say no, it is critical to say no in the right way.

No is perhaps the most important and powerful word. Saying No the right way is crucial.

— William Ury

The Long and the Short of It

Keep it simple. Short and sweet. Simpler is better.

Abbreviations. Internet shorthand. 140 characters.

Three-word search phrases. One (very short) paragraph summaries for everything.

But are those approaches working when it comes to yes and no? Effective communicating and negotiating certainly require more than a two-letter or three-letter response. And usually more than 140 characters as well.

Keep it short. Make it quick.

The speed of life, business and technology seems to have made the long version of anything obsolete. The traditional "Show me your business plan" has increasingly been replaced by "Email me a one-page executive summary" or "Fill out our online application" or other phrases that generally imply less discussion and interaction. "Let's sit down and talk" is probably viewed as old-fashioned and a waste of time. But didn't old-fashioned talking typically involve a give-and-take atmosphere where problems and misunderstandings could be resolved on the spot?

Is a "Yes or No" world a good thing? The "long answer" is almost always more likely to succeed than the "short answer" when it comes to conflict and disagreement. This will require more extended conversations involving communication, negotiation and collaboration.

A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.

— Mahatma Gandhi

One More Thing — Yes, No and Willpower

I created this overview to convey a number of important messages.

  • First, children learn about concepts like willpower at a very early age, and their learning translates to several long-term trends and important conclusions.
  • Second, acquiring a sense of willpower involves the ability to say “No” to yourself — and parents using “No” in positive ways provide several steps in the right direction.
  • Third, the effective use of “Yes and No” is an ongoing challenge at any age, and getting an early start to doing so more effectively will provide many lifelong benefits for parents and children.

In my regular work with both small businesses and large organizations, it is very clear that the improper use of both “Yes” and “No” causes immense difficulties in both business and life. Many small business owners absolutely hate negotiating in any form, and I believe a major reason for this aversion is that they misunderstand how to use these critical words — “Yes” and “No.”

"A key message of Say Yes to No is that parents have a responsibility and the power to influence their children and help them make good decisions and set limits for them that are reasonable." (Jody Ruggiero, School board member, founder and president of Tune In To Kids)


I’m so grateful for Dr. Dave’s new book “No” and the Say Yes to No initiative. The combination of scientific fact and warm wisdom and real life experiences, for me, it’s invaluable. Who would have thought such a tiny little word “no” could have such a huge impact on the overall success of my child’s life?

— Roxanne Battle, parent and journalist

© 2012 Stephen Bush

And now, your thoughts on the subject...

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    • shewins profile image

      shewins 5 years ago

      Parenting is so hard, parents need all the help they can get. This lens is very helpful, thanks.

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      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Nice work on this lens! Thanks for sharing - blessed by a SquidAngel!