Could This One Day Transform Your Relationship with Your Kids?

In 2009, an intriguing children’s book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal introduced a novel idea that many parents decided to try for themselves. 

Recently, Jennifer Garner popularized the idea – one she enjoys annually with her own kids – in a new Netflix movie

The concept is simple: Give your kids a “Yes Day.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: For one day, your answer to your kids’ requests is always yes. 

If you’re picturing your kids running wild for a day, eating candy for breakfast and jumping on the couches, you’re not entirely wrong. For families who’ve tried it, the fun of it lies in saying yes to requests that would normally trigger an automatic “no.” But if you think that sounds impossible, think again. With a few guidelines in place, many parents have found that a Yes Day can be feasible for their family.

Before you start planning your wild day, though, you might wonder why. Why would any parent want to agree to everything their kids ask for a day? It can sound intimidating to follow your kids’ lead, especially if you’ve gotten used to constantly saying no. But you might find that saying “yes” is worth the risk. 

Saying no is often the easy option for us as parents. But the truth is, circumstances will say no to your kid more often than not – and that’s been more true than ever in the past year. For many kids, the pandemic year has brought circumstances that forced many new “no’s”: No, you can’t go to school in person. No, you can’t go to a movie theater. No, you can’t see your friends. No, you can’t go inside the store without a mask. 

Choosing to say yes to our kids when we can – as difficult and scary as it may be – sends a message much bigger than the activity we’re saying yes to. A Yes Day can help you gain a deeper understanding of your kids’ interests and passions. It can grant your kids a new level of autonomy, sending them a message that you trust them and that you’re on their side. Most of all, it helps you reconnect your relationship, because for one day, you’re not fighting with your kids. You’re not trying to convince them to do the things they have to do, and you’re not focused on the tasks you need to accomplish. It’s a day to follow your kids’ lead – no matter where it takes you. 

Ready to give it a try? Here’s how to hold a Yes Day for your family without breaking the bank or losing your mind. 

A happy girl rides in a shopping cart at the grocery store

Start by setting some boundaries. Deciding to say yes doesn’t mean you have to keep every option in the world on the table. Unless you have limitless money to spend, set a budget limit (you don’t want to spend the next three months paying off your Yes Day bills!). You can do this per child or per activity, or you can set a total budget for the day and let your kids decide how to spend it. 

You might also want to set a location limit so you don’t spend the whole day driving. This could mean you tell your kids that all activities have to be within a certain number of miles or a certain driving time from your house, or it could mean you set a total mileage limit for the day – whatever works best for your family and your location. A time limit on each activity is also a good idea so you don’t spend the entire day doing just one thing (unless there’s one all-day activity that the kids really want).

If you only have one child (or if you have two parents and two kids who can split up), then choosing activities will be easy – your only child can get full say and follow any whim that catches their fancy. But if you’ve got several siblings and only one adult for the day, you’ll need to decide how the kids will choose activities if they disagree. You could have them take turns, so each sibling gets to pick an activity (time limits on activities will be essential if you take this route), or you could set a rule that they all have to agree (and you might be surprised how good they can be at compromising when you opt out of your usual veto power). 

And speaking of time limits, many experienced Yes Day parents recommend one final rule: No activities with long-term consequences. That means no signing up for six months of expensive archery lessons (but one trial lesson today is totally ok!), no dropping out of school (but playing hooky for the day might be an option), and absolutely no new puppies. 

Once you’ve agreed on the rules, you’ll have to decide how to plan your Yes Day. Parents are divided on this one: some like it to be a total surprise for kids when it happens, while others prefer to pick a date in advance and let the kids plan what they want to do. Both options can be a lot of fun, and you’ll probably be inclined to decide based on your own personal preference for planning or spontaneity.

But since Yes Day is a day for your kids, not for you, you might be better off letting them choose whether they want to be surprised or not. Keep in mind that this sudden decrease in structure (and increase in power) can be unsettling for kids as well as empowering. Some kids will be overwhelmed by choices if you surprise them with a Yes Day, and they’ll end up feeling stressed and disappointed by all the things they would have wanted to do if they’d had more time to think about it. Other kids will get overwhelmed by trying to plan, and they’ll enjoy the day more if they just go with the flow and choose what they want in the moment. If you’re not sure, consider talking with your kids about the theoretical idea of a Yes Day and how they would want to do it if they could.

Even if you do end up surprising your kids with the date, it’s generally a good idea to spend some time talking about it in advance so your kids aren’t overwhelmed by too many choices on the big day. Some parents like to plant ideas and suggestions ahead of time, while others encourage kids to make a list of 1-3 big things they definitely want to ask for when Yes Day arrives. Other families plan the entire day in advance. You can also write ideas on pieces of paper and put them in a bowl to draw from if your kids get paralyzed by indecision during the day. The key is to prioritize saying yes to what your kids want in the moment – and to remember that your kids’ needs and desires on the big day could be different from what they planned. If your kids plan a packed schedule and get exhausted halfway through, don’t insist on sticking to the plan – be prepared to say “yes” to going home and watching TV the rest of the day if you need to. 

Finally, once Yes Day is over, try to bring some of the spirit of Yes Day into everyday life. For many parents, one day of saying “yes” to their kids can help you recognize how often you say no – and how often it’s not really necessary. As parents, we often say “no” reflexively, feeling that it’s our job to set limits as much as possible. But often, the truth is that 10 more minutes of TV won’t really have much of an impact on bedtime, and two cookies instead of one won’t really give your child a sugar high. Yes Day can help you to reconsider which of your family limits are reasonable and necessary and which could use a little more flexibility. Saying “yes” when you can is a way to increase kids’ autonomy and ultimately to teach them responsibility. Saying yes can be an expression of respect and trust toward your kids. And the more you practice saying “yes” as a parent, the more your kids, in turn, will respect your “no,” because they’ll learn that when you set a limit, you have a good reason.