7 Goals to Survive the Age of "No"
"Kids say the darndest things" unless of course they are my 18 month old son, in which case he only says one thing: "no."
Ezra, do you want some water? - "no"
Do you want to go outside? - "nooooo"
Let's have a snack! - "no, no, no, no!"
Can mommy have a hug? - silent pause... "no-eh"
Even when he wants something, he yells no while pointing and screaming. But here's the thing: while I realize his fixation on the word "no" can sometimes be annoying, it's actually a sign that he is developing his sense of independence.
Children who exert their personalities via negativism (saying "no") have simply realized they have the power to refuse other people's requests. If handled properly, this phase can last only a year, vs. three, and set the foundation for excellence in leadership, confidence, and self-reliance.
Some things I'm trying to be mindful of in the midst of this parenting milestone:
1. Don't take it personally. He's not saying "no" to be disrespectful. Rather, it's his way of asking "Do I have to?" or "Do you really mean what you are asking me to do?"
My goal: approach his defiance with humor and awe of the person he is becoming.
2. Practice patience. I've found a good rule of thumb to be "punish your child for what he does, not what he says." While Ezra is definitely a smart little boy, he's still a bit too young for me to explain why I don't like him saying the word "no" all of the time. Action is always louder than words. Instead of fighting, I need to show him the behavior that is appropriate, whether through conversations with David or simply providing opportunities for him to take the lead.
My goal: Stay silent. Arguing with his use of the word "no" will only prolong his behavior.
3. Offer choices. If Ezra feels like he is the decision maker, he is much more cooperative. I'm not about to let him dictate meals and schedules, but I at least offer him a choice in the matter. For example: Instead of telling him what to eat I'll ask "which fruit do you want to eat for a snack?" and then let him pick. Or in the case of tasks he doesn't like, such as teeth brushing, I'll ask "do you want to brush or do you want mommy to?"
My goal: Let go of how I want things to be and learn to compromise. He is his own person with his own likes and dislikes too.
4. Don't give a choice. I know I just talked about offering choices, but there are some situations where it's not safe for a toddler to choose. For example: standing up in his booster seat. He could fall and hurt himself. There is no choice other than him needing to sit. Making him understand that these types of requests are non-negotiable is important.
My goal: Avoid ultimatums such as "do this or else." Instead, talk to him the way I would want to be talked to - "I'm sorry, but you have to sit down, otherwise mommy will take you out of the chair and you'll miss out on dinnertime."
5. Transition is key. Ezra gets fixated on whatever he is doing, so often times I need to give him a 5 minute warning that we are about to switch activities. This happens often when he is trying to play with the Tupperware on the kitchen floor, but I need him to play in the living room while I cook.
My goal: Be understanding. Set a timer on my phone and spend 5 minutes helping him transition to a new activity.
6. Eliminate excessive rules. No one likes to be controlled or micromanaged. The more rules there are, the less likely Ezra will be agreeable about following them. There has to be a balance between positive interactions and negative ones.
My goal: Don't sweat the small stuff. If he doesn't want to wear his socks to bed or finish drinking his milk, that's OK. There are more important things to worry about.
7. Avoid excessive "no's." We need to be a model for our child's agreeableness. If I'm going to grant a request, I need to do so before he starts to wine. If I'm unsure, I try to either say "yes" or postpone the decision by saying "let me think about it."
My goal: Monitor my own use of the word "no." If I need to decline a request, try to say "no" but also give Ezra a reason why.
What about you? Do you have a child or toddler who struggles with the use of "no." What are your goals during this "age of no"? Let me know in the comments!
Resources for this post: Your Child's Health by Barton D. Schmitt M.D.