Parents: Activating Your ‘Yes-Brain’ Will Be Your Tantrum Reducer Superpower

As a parent, you get a lot of unsolicited advice, but every now and again there’s a nugget of wisdom that sticks and, better yet, actually works. For me, that’s the ‘yes brain’ approach to parenting.

It was originally coined by Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson in their book Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience In Your Child and it directly counters what happens when all a child hears is no, no, no on repeat.

The ‘yes brain’ is empowering; the ‘no brain’ is threatening, Siegel and Bryson explain.

Here’s how it applies to our kids: It goes without saying that no is a word that comes up a lot when you’re a parent, especially when dealing with the toddler/preschool set. When a kid hears it, it sparks a reaction that’s similar to how we feel when we enter fight or flight mode. For example, your child tells you: “I want ice cream for dinner.” You say, “No way, not possible, no!”

Cue the battle—often in the form of a tantrum—or the retreat. Either way, hearing no is deactivating and, per Siegel and Bryson, curtails a child’s development because it shuts down connectedness and new opportunities to learn.

Now, consider the ‘yes brain’ approach, which is flexible and thoughtful—best understood as a glass half full mindset. Let’s rewind the ice cream conversation. Your child says: “I want ice cream for dinner.” Instead of an instant shutdown in the form of the word no, you couch your reply as a “yes.”A sample response: “Cool idea, I’m hungry now, too. We have to eat dinner first, but let’s pick out a flavor for later. I love vanilla!” You’re still asserting a boundary, but it’s an uplifting one that prioritizes a sense of connection and curiosity.

Of course, as parents, it’s hard to maintain this approach when our kids are doing things that require an immediate “No!”. Still, according to Siegel and Bryson, the more we can pause and shift our response from reactivity to receptiveness, the better equipped we are to achieve this ideal.

Instagram parenting sensation Big Little Feelings also teaches the ‘yes brain’ approach. They call it the ‘yes-no sandwich,’ where you quite literally sandwich the “no” between two ‘yes’ responses. An example: Your kid wants to go to the playground after school, but you can’t. You reply: “Oh, you want to go to the playground. What a fun idea, yes! We have to go home today because it’s raining, but we can go tomorrow—will you go on the swings or the slide first?” The result is nearly the same as Siegel and Bryson’s model, but the sandwich offers a super simple guide when your kid is mid-tantrum.

Ultimately, the ‘yes brain’ is about helping your child achieve balance in that they hear and understand the “no,” but they’re more capable of tolerating it vs. melting down.

And isn’t that the ultimate parenting goal? Avoiding a meltdown? If you can teach resilience along the way, bonus points.

The 4-Step Script for Tackling Toddler Tantrums That Every Parent Needs

Rachel Bowie

Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...
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