The Importance of No
Any parent of a young child knows that you start off more than a few conversations with the word “No.”
As far as your little one is concerned he’s just trying to get to know his world. But as far as you’re concerned, your child is secretly trying to give you a nervous breakdown.
“No, you can’t put Dad’s sneaker in your mouth.” Or “No, you can’t eat that pencil.” Or “No, I don’t care what Grandma said, you can’t be carried everywhere, sometimes your feet will have to touch the ground.” Or my personal favorite: “No! Stop that! The cat does not want to wrestle.”
According to pediatrician Dr. Wil Wilkoff, author of How to Say No to Your Toddler, the most important thing parents can do when it comes to disciplining their toddler is to put their child’s safety first. “It boils down to a safety issue. If you only need one reason to learn to tell your toddler ‘no’ effectively, it’s to keep your child safe,” he says.
Having said that, if a parent starts and ends every conversation with their toddler by saying “No,” the word may start to lose its weight. After a while it becomes clear that it’s best to pick the battles. Dr. Wilkoff suggests that parents write down the behaviors that are most troubling to them and prioritize the worst ones. “The most unsafe behavior should top the list, followed by the behaviors that you find the most disturbing.”
There are also positive ways to get your point across without becoming Mommy-the-Tyrant. One way to balance the negative is by creative alternatives. Instead of constantly saying “No”, offer your toddler a choice. Try a simple tactic, like offering to trade him a ball for the TV remote control, to using more elaborate alternatives such as telling your little one that she has a real sense of style, then dubbing her the family’s Chief Sock-Wrangler. This job entails helping you round up all the matching socks as the laundry comes out of the dryer. Make sure to applaud a job well done. This is a tried and true tactic used by public relations professionals everywhere, and epitomized by Tom Sawyer, when he convinced his friends to paint his aunt’s fence for him. It’s the rare toddler who’s up on Mark Twain, so you’re probably safe with this tactic.
Stop signs and stop-sound signals can also help enormously, as many parents unwittingly master the no-look and the no-voice signals. Children pick up on their parents’ body language fairly quickly, and using a certain look that immediately conveys, “Stop” can be an invaluable tool for a parent. Also being able to tailor the intensity and tone of your voice to convey “No” without directly saying the word is a handy skill. Your child will soon learn which words carry more weight and power, and you’ll obtain a faster response.
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