The YES Environment!

Part of our YES environment for active boys includes an indoor swing and mini climbing wall

When my first son was just a few months old, I got the best piece of parenting advice to date. A friend of mine suggested to “always have an emergency sucker in my purse”. Even though she was half joking (and I am kind of embarrassed to admit) this has been an effective parenting tool that has saved us all, myself included, from complete meltdown more than once.

I received my second favorite parenting tip when my first son started to crawl. At that time a friend shared the idea of creating a YES environment in your home. What is a YES environment? It’s arranging your physical space to be baby/child friendly in order to decrease the frequency at which you are saying “no”, “don’t”, “stop” and the like. It’s a bit different than child-proofing as child-proofing typically only assess and removes potential dangers. Creating a YES environment goes a step further to create a space that understands and supports the development needs of young children to actively explore their environment. It also aims to minimize conflict between parent and child. A common example is to have non-breakable kitchenware in a few lower cabinets so that little curious hands can open doors, touch, rearrange, and even crawl into the cabinets. If you were only interested in baby-proofing you would simply put child-locks on ALL the cabinets. However a YES environment recognizes baby/child’s curiousities as valid and provides appropriate outlets for them.

For me having a YES environment means I don’t have very many decorative things around the house. I prefer not to spend energy constantly redirecting baby (or friends’ little ones when they visit) away from breakables. It also means I don’t have nice new furniture because I would rather not feel angry at my children for accidents such as spilling their drink or tracking in mud. I definitely talk with them about being careful, and/or responsible in these situations and may even have them help clean up. However I don’t have to exert energy being overly protective of furnishing and can respond to accidents calmly.

Another important part of having a YES environment for me is actually saying YES to my children when they ask something. Can we paint? Can we play in the water? Can we do playdough? Can we go for a bike ride? Can we take all the blankets and pillows off all the beds to make a fort? YES! Okay truth be told, sometimes (often) my first thought is “no way!”. But then I pause and ask myself why the answer is no? And if a valid reason does not come to mind (please note that “because it’s a big mess that I don’t want to have to clean up” IS a valid reason at times) then instead of resist, I aim to embrace their request. Sometimes the YES comes with limits such as “sure we can paint outside” or a compromise “if you want to play with water you can play in the bathtub” or a deal “okay, but you will need to put them all back when you are done”.

Critics of a YES environment might say “well a child needs to learn boundaries”. And be assured that I absolutely agree!! However I have faith and trust that the unpredictable nature of life itself will inevitably provide ample opportunity for a child to learn boundaries. And I also feel that the less frequently a child hears no, the more attentive and respectful they are when they do hear it.

Do you have a YES environment in your home? If so what does that look like for your family? What do you think the benefits of it are?


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4 Responses to “The YES Environment!”

  1. Meegs says:

    This is great. We are working on being better about YES.

  2. Jennifer L says:

    I love this. Although, I’m not entirely on board with the constant “yes” philosophy as some parents take it to the extreme, I completely agree with saying yes to the things you mentioned. I already have DH in the habit of putting the hazardous stuff up top and anything we don’t want her touching/breaking/playing with will be well out of reach or just not purchased depending on what it is.

    We don’t plan on child proofing our cabinets at all, we just store the stuff she shouldn’t get into in the upper cabinets.

    We also have child level activities in store for her (bookshelves at her height, less messy crafty stuff that’s reachable for her whenever she’s inclined), luckily I’ve had a lot of experience with kids before having my own so one of the things I’ll always keep on hand is a dollar store shower curtain to put on the floor when they want to paint/be messy – it really saves the carpet in a rental (or your own home), plus if it’s REALLY messy you can easily toss/recycle it, if it’s just paint – let it dry and reuse it, the drop cloth left over from painting will help, too.

    People always thing I’m crazy when I have their kids help me bake, get their snacks or things of that nature (especially when the child asks to do so) because it always takes longer and it’s always messier, but I love it. And if you don’t teach them the proper boundaries within the environment by actually exploring it with them, how are they supposed to learn that certain messes are okay or that clean up is part of playing or whatever other small lessons they pick up along the way?

  3. C Hulsey says:

    I do have a yes environment in my home. I agree completely with you that it minimizes stress, allows appropriate developmental activities and still teaches boundaries. For 2 of my 4 children we even have kept a climbing structure and slide smack dab in the middle of the living room. Why? Because they were constantly climbing and being told no – and risking breaking a bone… having a safe place to climb and slide kept me sane and them safe. I do not keep breakables within reach. We also have an old dining room table so that we can cut, glue, paint, etc. without worrying about the finish of the table.

  4. Amber says:

    I was just talking about this today! I am a strong advocate of the “yes environment” and happen to be building a mini climbing wall in our small apartment this week for our 3 year old. My husband thinks I’m crazy. 🙂