Monday, July 29, 2013

How to Say Yes Without Being a Pushover

It happens in every family. The child asks for something big - bigger than a t-shirt but smaller than a car - and the parent wants to say yes but also wants the child to earn it, to make a sacrifice for it. After all, the parent is afraid of the slippery slope: saying yes today will make the kid expect a yes next time too.

Here is a perfect solution that I learned from my in-laws. When your son or daughter asks for something big, ask them write a five paragraph essay before you say yes.

Let's say your daughter wants to go to a concert. You would rather that she not go, but she seems desperate to join her friends and see the show. You want to make her happy, and you don't want to have an argument about it, but you also don't want her to expect immediate gratification every time she asks for something. So say yes, as long as she writes a persuasive essay with three strong reasons supported with facts. This will accomplish a few things:
  1. Your daughter has to earn this special privilege
  2. She must think about why she wants to go, teaching her to consider her decisions carefully
  3. You get a glimpse of how she feels about the decision
  4. She becomes a better writer through practice
  5. You get to say yes and be the good guy
If your daughter does not really want to go, she won't go to the trouble of writing the essay, and she will drop the subject without you having to crush her dream. If she really does want to attend the concert, she will write five compelling paragraphs to convince you to agree.

The best expository essays are persuasive essays, so if you ask your child to write first, you are asking him to support his argument with facts and logical reasons. This rarely happens with a verbal discussion which quickly descends into an emotional debate. Your child can convince you to agree in a cool, thoughtful way. In effect, you are making your child practice the art of convincing others to agree with him, a skill very useful in adult life. 

This works for children of all ages. When my kids were in kindergarten, we had them list three reasons, just a couple words, why we should take them to the movies or get a cat. More recently, we took away video games because they were neglecting their chores. When they asked if they could have video games back, we had them write five paragraph essays listing reasons why they should. They even considered why we might say no and included a counter argument. The vocabulary and grammar were elementary school level, but the form was just like what I taught in my classroom. I spent time walking my kids through the essay writing process, but you of course can save time by having your kids use Clickademics Essay Engine which walks the student through all of the steps of creating an organized essay.

If your child gives you an essay that is poorly written or based on weak arguments, send them back to the computer to improve it before you agree. You might even consider writing an essay of your own stating your concerns - the concert will be too loud, you will be out too late, there will be no supervision - and make your daughter find solutions to each of your worries.