I remember till the time I didn’t have my child, I used to imagine and think about what all I would say to my child. I would lovingly imagine the baby’s first words and mine. Far from the reality then, the fictional picture looked perfect. Post two years to that fantasy, there I was living the reality, listening to the actual word from my baby’s mouth. It was one of the first few words that my kid babbled happily, a loud and a happy “No”.
Only much later, when he was around fourteen months old, did I realize that the originator of the word was me! Every time I would see my toddler running with poor balance at breakneck speed, my heart would leap out and I would be heard saying, ‘No running! No, no, no!’
Right from splashing the contents of his meal on the floor, putting his little finger into plug points to trying to eat soap or the laundry detergent, my “No’s resounded everywhere. Things did not help because for every ‘No’ of mine, he would come up with more brilliant disastrous, life threatening activities for himself, making me seriously doubt on the genetic lineage of me and my better half’s family!
If licking the floor was a ‘No’ from me, he would proceed to lick the wall. If I stopped him from spilling the contents of the garbage can, then he would distract me by putting them back, but only in the cupboards. I was getting tired, frustrated and madder with every passing moment and would just pray that the baby would sleep, so that I would clean the mess or get time to rest.
Despite so many “No’s, no desired results were achieved except stress and anxiety. In fact, my kid was enjoying the new game. He would simply pause for a second, say the word ‘No’ to me in an amused way, and shoot off like a Hailey’s comet!
My ‘No’s were adding to the problem rather than rectifying them and I seriously had no clue as to what to do! There were days when I would be crying my heart out in the restroom, praying for some ‘Mary Poppins’ kind of figure to walk into my life and save me from my own version of parental abuse. Little did I realize that I was my own savior and so, with a steely resolve, I decided to end my war with the word ‘No’ and come with more effective techniques to handle toddler crisis.
I kept looking for various parenting forums and suitable tactics to control a wild, hyper active toddler, but while mostly talked about having patience (which I lack), explaining in detail to the child (which looked like a bad idea to me at times) or sometimes even remain indifferent to the situation (would make me more crazy), I realized I was unfit for all the possible given solutions. However, that did not mean I quit. I had to devise my own customized solution.
Too much of the word “No” was projecting a lot of negativity and pessimism in the house, thereby making my child doubt every action of his. There were times, when he would inevitably touch and look at me for some reaction, maybe expecting an approval or another “No”. The look shot up the guilt quo in me and I knew I had to work at it seriously before I stooped low in my own eyes. After all I was saying ‘No’ more than any other word!
My mother’s advice came to my rescue. I started showing and simultaneously telling him what to do rather than what not to do. For instance, at the time of teething, he was in the biting phase. Whenever he was tired, frustrated or hungry, he would resort to this means to vent it out. My loud ‘No’s, were scaring and making him burst into sobs. Applying my mom’s logic helped. Every time I sensed his teething action, I would slowly offer him a teething ring or some of his gel filled toys. He would get distracted and focus on the new activity. To make the process more fun, I would always keep the teething toys and rings in fridge to make it cold. He loved the cool touch of the teething ring onto his gums and would go about exploring it by keeping it on his legs and neck and squealing in delight.
He gradually began to understand the game and would point at the refrigerator and smile, suggesting his need. Also sometimes, I created a game, where I would run and say ‘You can’t catch me’. He would just get amused and drop the idea of biting, to only run after me. Every time, he would try and bite me, I would simply start playing this newfound game and see my little one burst into small peals of laughter.
The next effective thing that I did was to understand the places where the “No’s came maximum out of me. First were some distinct places and objects in the house, which required immediate childproofing, so that I panicked less when the child walked or touched them. The action plan worked and I helped to gain some sanity through the process. Also my child grew more confident in maneuvering his way around the house, without any “No’s!
Another effective tool, which even till date is handy is “Distraction”. For instance, if I ever found him inching towards the plug points or the wiring of a gadget, I would distract him with a fancy item or an impromptu dance! Although, the latter was making me look like a lunatic, yet the trick used to work and my son would get diverted. Hence, both distraction and humor worked.
Also another trick is to use short phrases. For keeping him away from anything damaging like hot stove or sharp objects, I say, “It’s too dangerous”. He understands the term “danger” and “stop”, so the phrases work. Also at times, short explanation works. For instance, “Hitting hurts”, “Hitting makes people sad” etc. help in explicitly explaining him about the immediate repercussions of his act.
If not talking, then reading is also a good way to sensitize a child about certain things, in process adding words to his dictionary. Ever since I started reading to him, I noticed a surge in vocabulary. While this has helped him to identify his feelings and emotions through certain characters in his story books, it yet has to come into full blown realization.
However, now whenever things don’t work his way he will choose dialogues like, “I’m sad”, “I’m so angry at you!” etc. At least that helps me as a parent to identify my child’s feelings and take appropriate action.
Anyway, despite so much vocabulary, toddlers are bound to create some very specific difficult situations, defying all chances of any peaceful settlement. This can be a conflict over a toy or a food item with another child of the same age. In such cases, substituting “No “with statements like “We cannot do that”, “We don’t say that”, “we talk and don’t use hands”, “Can we take the toy after playing with blocks…?” “Yes we will after…” are helpful and hopeful.
Whenever I find my son clutching a bag of chocolates or a toy, at the departmental store, I resort to barter system. I keep his favorite set of toys or food ready, which I pretend to keep back at the newly vacated space on the rack. The loss of his favorite toy often makes him put back the new toy, so this helps in preventing world war three.
Affirmations like, “Yes, we will eat candy after dinner”, or “will buy it after I pick veggies”, always work. These are positive affirmations, posing less of a threat and are good substitutes for a direct “No” to a child. There could be power struggles even after these statements, but if you stay calm, keep repeating it, it might work. The key is to stay detached to that heated moment and not take it personally and hug your child. Sometimes it works.
Facial expressions and a certain tone in voice also help in putting across the point in a turbulent situation. At least, my son now knows through a certain expression of mine, which says, “I’m not enjoying your tantrum and you need to stop”.
Understanding when to agree and when to withdraw through the word “No” is tricky, yet not an impossible feat. Practice will help in creating that balance. However, conscious efforts will prevent saying too many “No’s unnecessarily. It will drastically reduce the feeling of resentment and rebellion in a child. Usage of too much “No” creates a feeling of low self-esteem and low confidence in a child, plummeting him into a shell, making him believe that the world is a negative place to live.
Eliminating the word is not completely possible nor is advisable because sometimes saying the word, sparingly though, helps in teaching the child the power of it. As long as you focus on achieving the balance by saying the word sparingly, it will hold its magic. I won’t say that I have stopped using the word, but even if I do, I immediately add an additional short explanation to nullify the damage. I am careful now and choose them strongly in too dangerous or life threatening situations.