If you are a toddler mom, the word “no” is probably number two on the list of Most Heard Words of the Day (the first one being “mummy”). It can be quite exhausting to hear your toddler answer everything with “no” a thousand times a day.
Would you like something to eat? No.
Can mummy put your shoes on? No.
Can mummy get a kiss? No.
Can you please come over here? No.
Put your toys on the shelve sweetie. No!
But the other night Isaya was asleep next to me and she started to talk in her sleep. She was muttering a bit and then very clearly and decisively she said the word “no.” This make me rethink everything I had thought and felt about her toddler no’s up until that moment. And here is why:
My first response to her talking in her sleep was to smile: It was so cute! But then it made me a bit emotional. I wanted to step into her dream and protect her from the thing or person that made her feel like she needed to say this word. Who or what was bothering her? Who was overstepping her boundaries? This may sound a bit bonkers, but I felt angry at who or whatever it was that made her feel like she needed to say “no” in such a determined way.
It made me think of all the times in her life she will need to be able to say no. To kids who are trying to make her do things she doesn’t want. To boys who are asking things she isn’t ready for. To bosses who are mean and overstepping. To landlords who are trying to ignore her rights. To drugs. To alcohol. To cigarettes. There are so many things she needs to become strong for. I wish I could protect her from all of these things, but I also know she needs to learn how to protect herself. It made me realize this whole “I’m saying no to mummy” business isn’t too bad after all.
“You are helping your toddler become a person that is able to say 'no' to things and people.”
Because even though, with a nay-saying toddler, it takes twice as long to get ready in the morning and a trip to the supermarket basically takes up your whole afternoon, it is an important phase. You are helping your toddler become a person that is able to say “no” to things and people. By being there, by being the recipient of the no-ing, you are preparing your child for all the things to come. You are the safe environment in which your child can practice for “the real world.” Your toddler can experience how it feels to say no. What the power is of that word is. It gives your toddler a sense of self and a sense of control.
So even though it’s exhausting and annoying as heck, next time (in about five minutes I imagine) your toddler says “no” to you, your cooking, your suggestions, your requests or your questions, just breathe in. And breathe out. And imagine your toddler as a teenager, saying no to all the girls that are smoking cigarettes or as a young adult saying no to the manager with no sense of boundaries.
If you can, try and honor your child’s no, by accepting it and finding an alternative together: flip-flops instead of shoes, cucumber instead of tomato, walking instead of a bike ride, a hug instead of a kiss. This way you both get what you need.
Your toddler will feel that “no” has a power that doesn’t end a conversation and starts a confrontation, but actually starts a conversation and ends an inner conflict. And you get to walk out of the door with a happy toddler in flip-flops. See? Win win.
Obviously this isn’t always a possibility or even safe. Sometimes your child just needs to listen to your yes. For instance, if the alternative involves a dangerous situation. If you are not the toughest cookies out there and have a hard time with being strict (me), distraction is your friend in situations where there isn’t an alternative to ‘no.’ And if that doesn’t work, there is always bribery. Just kidding. Kind of.
Oh, and yes, I know what you are thinking, she was probably saying “no” to me in her dream. I got the message, though.