A “yes space” is simply a space where you don’t feel like you have to always be saying “no”, “don’t touch” and “don’t climb” to your children.
Creating “yes spaces” in your home allows everyone to feel more relaxed. Your children are free to touch, explore, move, climb, and look after their own needs, and you feel more at ease knowing they are unlikely to do serious damage to anything – including themselves. What these spaces will look like will depend on your home and your family.
We live in a fairly small home, so for us it’s always been important that the whole home is child friendly and that Frida has free access to wherever she wants to go – turning the whole house into a “yes space”. This is something we’ve been able to facilitate as when she was younger one of us was always able to watch her and support her if something looked unsafe. Your home set up and family circumstances may be very different!
Here are a few thoughts to get you thinking about turning your home into a “yes space”.
Safety is important. This is obvious, but I would argue the benefits are not just keeping your child safe. Knowing your child is unlikely to come to serious harm reduces your stress as a parent and lets you relax and drop your guard. It also means you don’t have to keep saying no, which reduces conflict and helps everyone feel on the same team (blog post coming up on that subject soon!)
To ensure your home is a safe space, you could consider:
- Getting on your child’s level – this might mean lying on the floor or getting down on your hands and knees – and really looking around. What can you see? It’s amazing the stuff we can miss as adults. What would be appealing if you were an infant who was just beginning to walk or crawl, or a child who was interested in how things work and wanting to touch everything? It’s not always possible to make homes totally safe, but there are some things you can easily change such as putting locks on cupboards with cleaning products, not having heavy objects at a height where they could be pulled down, or keeping wires tidy under furniture where they are harder to reach.
- Making one room the “safe” room to begin with. This can be especially helpful with an older baby or younger toddler. Having one room which is perfectly safe can be a huge relief if you need to go to the loo or jump in the shower, and enables you to relax whilst your child plays without having to be on the lookout for them eating cat food or licking shoes. Some families keep certain rooms like the kitchen gated, or use a stair gate. If you start with one room, I would still encourage you to look at making the whole of your home as child friendly as possible – after all, this is your child’s home too, and they have a right to a suitable environment.
- Ensuring your young child has ample opportunities to practice gross motor activities such as climbing in an appropriate way – or you may find them scaling the book cases to get what they need. This could be as simple as creating cushion mountains to climb over, or obstacle courses with chairs and tables.
- Teaching rather than hiding away or saying no. Although some things are always potentially dangerous – cleaning products for example – many, many more are a grey area. Consider which things you could patiently teach your child about! Crockery and cutlery are a good example of this, but it can also apply to things like allowing your child to learn to safely climb onto a chair rather than telling them no, keeping stairs un-gated, or showing your young child how to gently handle and water a pot plant rather than moving it onto a high shelf.
- Reassessing often. This goes both ways – there may be some things which were safe which now could potentially be dangerous because your child can reach them or climb, but there may also be things which were potentially dangerous which are now safer as your child is old enough to start learning to use them carefully.
If you have children at different developmental stages, ie. a child who is enjoying playing with Lego, beads, or other loose parts alongside a baby or toddler who is still exploring everything by putting it in their mouth, strict boundaries around where the toys with small parts will live are necessary. Large trays with a thick rim are great for letting older children play with smaller objects as they can be moved onto a table or higher surface when their siblings are around. If your older children have their own rooms, consider keeping these toys in there – and keeping little ones out.
Note: what a safe home will look like will differ from family to family. For example, we chose not to use stair gates for Frida as I felt able to supervise her each time she wanted to use the stairs, until she had reliably learnt to use them safely herself. However, many families I know feel more relaxed knowing that the stair gate is there, which allows them to feel less stressed in their daily life with their child. There is no one right or wrong way to organise your home! We will all have different levels of tolerance for risk, differing reserves of patience, and our children will all have different temperaments. Do what feels right for your family.
As well as being safe, I believe that “yes spaces” should encourage independence. This greatly reduces frustration all round as your children can help themselves without a need to ask you first, and you can get on with whatever you are doing with fewer interruptions. This also gives your children more power and autonomy over their own life; for example, if snack foods are in reach then then your children can choose to snack when they are hungry, but if the snacks are kept high up out of reach then the power lies with you to allow the snack. Even if you always say yes, the power still rests with you.
To encourage independence you could:
- Have a clear space for your baby to practice moving and crawling
- Have low, sturdy furniture or a pull-up bar for your infant to pull themselves up on
- Organise a small toddler wardrobe so your child can select their own clothing from a few simple options
- Place a mirror low down so your young child can observe themselves
- Have child-size furniture that your toddler can get in and out of by themselves
- Keep toys in shallow baskets on low shelves and books in low open-faced bookshelves so your child can find what they want to play with, and later learn to put toys and books back in their proper place
- Create a small snack station – a few crackers in an easy to open container is fine to start with
- Consider giving your toddler safe access to water with a plastic water dispenser
- Put step-stools at various points in your home, such as by sinks and the kitchen counter, so your child can be involved in self-care and cooking
One of the best ways to give your child independence is to simply make sure their space is safe, and then get out of their way and let them explore!
As I mention above, each family and each parent with have their own limits when it comes to risk, safety, and independence – and this will probably depend on their children’s temperaments and personality too. Although I am a fan of creating an environment where my daughter can have as much freedom as possible – think open access to paint, glue, scissors, water, knives, furniture she can climb on – I recognise that this may not work for everyone at first, or perhaps ever.
If your children having access to these sorts of things is stressful for you, it’s OK not to do it! Having a relaxed parent around, rather than one who is stressed out on tenterhooks waiting for someone to make a mess, is always going to be the better option. Focus on the things you ARE happy to change, and you can always return to open-access paints another day if you change your mind.
To reduce stress in your home:
- Declutter, and implement toy rotation. A clearer space is less visually stressful and more calming, children can find the book or toy they are looking for without dumping everything out (and you can find that important letter you were looking for too!) and there are fewer things to tidy up at the end of the day. Our home is frequently messier than I would like, but I know that when it’s tidy and spaces are clear, everyone feels happier and more relaxed. Start small and work your way up – for many people, myself included, it’s an ongoing journey.
- Consider removing items from your home which are a source of more conflict than joy. Yes, that might include the TV! I know it sounds like a big step, but if you are constantly having to fend off requests to put the television on I really urge you to consider it. Besides, it’s so easy to watch shows on a laptop (which can be hidden away after you’ve finished), and ditching the TV might create extra space for some bookshelves or that vintage sideboard you’ve been eyeing up…
- Arrange things so that older children can reach what they need – paint, sharp kitchen tools, scissors – whilst keeping them out of the reach of little fingers who are still learning to use these materials with care. Shelves or spice racks fixed to the wall are a great way to make a shared space work for everyone.
- If you live in a rented home consider having a proactive chat with your landlord about changes you could make. If you have pale carpets for example, could you speak about taking the carpet up and having floorboards instead? If walls are the problem, what about offering to repaint with “easy to clean” paint? Many landlords will be happy for their tenants to make positive changes to a property, especially if you plan to stay there long term. If it’s not possible, then you may want to limit paints and ink to the kitchen, or only bring them out under supervision – with a mat under the easel! – leaving crayons out instead.
Whilst you are thinking about “yes spaces” I’d also like to encourage you to think about “yes spaces” out of the home. By all means think about your garden, but also out and about. Which spaces feel good to spend time in? Can you go there more often, avoiding places which lead to more conflict?
This article is part of a mini-series called “The Peaceful Home” where I will be sharing tips to help you to increase the ease and joy with which you parent, and reduce stress and conflict in your home. Next up will be ideas for avoiding saying “no” and what to do instead, so check back soon.