Over the past year, I adopted a new rule for myself. I was in the midst of some big changes personally, and I wanted to ensure that I didn't end up hiding out or avoiding people. So, I decided that I would say "yes" to every social invitation I received unless there was a very rational reason to say no.
It turns out, I rather like this policy. Just saying "yes" has helped me remain adventurous. I've forged new friendships. I've learned things about myself. I've gained new skills. I'm even trying to learn a new language! It has been good for me, and for now, I plan to continue doing it.
That said, I have also been thinking about the power of "no". I tend to over-estimate how much I can accomplish in a day (or week or month), and I also like to imagine that my "yes" keeps other people happy (as if I really had that much power!). As a result, I find myself overwhelmed and stressed more often than is really necessary.
I was observing in one of our Children's House classrooms, and I got to see a "no" work beautifully. One child was working with the bead chain. Another child approached and asked to join the work. Our first friend simply said, "No Thank You" and went back to work.
I was curious what that second student would do. At first, he stood and watched his friend continue skip counting. Then, he wandered for a bit in the room, finally settling on some other work. After his friend put away the bead chain, he went back to it, taking down from the cabinet and starting his own work. All of this played out over the course of nearly 45 minutes.
I thought about how powerful that one "no" was for both of these children.
For the second child, who is only 4 years old, he got some practice at impulse control! Lots of four-year-olds might have grabbed the work, hit, pinched or fought about the work. Some also would have sought help from an adult in forcing his friend to share.
Based on the initial tension I saw in the face of our student, I'm pretty sure those options were not too far from the surface. Instead of grabbing or doing any of those other things, he stood and watched. What a great thing to practice!
Our friend also learned how to adapt. When he could not have his first choice, he needed to make another choice. He wandered. He considered options, and he found other work. I saw him settle in to an alternative choice.
Even though I don't know whether his second choice was as satisfying as the first, I do know that throughout his life my friend will face situations that don't go as planned or where he doesn't get what he wants. He will need to figure out a Plan B. Any parent who has ever traveled with children knows that being flexible and open to alternatives goes a long way to keeping everyone on track! I'm so glad this friend got the chance to practice that skill also.
And when I think about it from the perspective of the first student, he also got some really useful practice. He got to say no. He practiced setting a boundary with a friend. He also got to really engross himself in his work without having to navigate a negotiation with someone else.
Even though it might seem counterintuitive, that friend also got practice at saying "yes". When you think about it, can you really say "yes" without the freedom to say "no"? Can you really share generously without the option to keep things to yourself?
I'm guessing when that first friend is ready for elementary, he will be excited about sharing his work and working with a friend. At that point, his "yes" will really mean "yes"!
As for me, I'm going to practice saying "no" to taking on more things so that I have the freedom to say "yes" more often to the alternatives. If you have experience with this, please share your secrets! In the meantime, I'll keep learning from my friends!