How many ways to say ‘NO!’ are there?

Now that my son Owen is 2,  the baby has been replaced by a confident little man who has his own preferences.

One of his favorite things to do at this moment is to say “No!”

It doesn’t matter what the question is, “No!” is the most appropriate answer.

“Owen, would you close the drawer?”

“Want to sit with Daddy?”

“Did you have a good day, Owen?”

“Do you want to color?”

Of course this sometimes presents a problem for him. What if the answer isn’t “No?” What if he does want to color?

The answer is still “no,” but he has a “tell” as they say in poker. His face changes. His eyes widen as he worries about the outcome. Then he hesitates before giving his standard answer. This is the only way he lets on that the answer actually is in fact, “yes.”

I thought teaching him a fun way to say “yes” would do the trick.

“Owen,” I said with my thumbs-up ala Fonzie style, “this means ‘yes,’ and this means ‘no,’” turning my thumbs upside down.

He started to smile.

“No!” he said laughing while attempting to put his thumbs down.

He saw the beauty in what I offered him—another way to say, “no.”

He ignored the thumbs-up. Hmmm…

“OK, Owen, try this…Shaking your head up and down means ‘yes’ and shaking it from side to side means ‘no.’”

He illustrated he understood with a nod from side to side.

For help, I turned to the Web.

A number of parents consoled each other and offered what help they could in the article “Parents say: Getting past No!” on a BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board site.

“When your toddler falls in love with the word “no,” it can feel like you’ve run straight into a brick wall,” it starts.

“We like the idea of giving choices within boundaries. For example, with our 22 month old, Noah, if he says he is hungry, I might say ‘Okay, lets have a piece of fruit. Would you like a banana or grapes?’ That way he is making the choice, and the choice is a healthy one,” wrote Adrienne.

Respond with humor advises Jan from Minnesota.

“My 2 1/2-year-old won’t always cooperate — no surprise! For instance, I’ll ask him to sit down to eat and he’ll say “No!” and laugh, and start dancing around instead. That used to make me mad (okay, it still does), but I try to laugh back and say something like, ‘What’s going on there, Legs? You tell Bottom to sit right in that chair!’ That makes him laugh and breaks his defiant mood,” she writes.

Lisa from Washington also uses lightheartedness to prevent a head-on battle.

I try to deal with stubbornness by making the task seem more fun. Going potty before leaving the house can be an endless battle in our home, so now we ‘fly’ our 2 1/2-year-old son to the bathroom. By the time we get there, he is laughing and having so much fun he is willing to go potty,” she writes.

Of course, there is the old standby, reverse psychology.

“When I have heard one ‘no’ too many from my 2 1/2-year-old son, reverse psychology always seems to work. I just say, ‘Oh, okay then, I’ll do it by myself.’ He always chimes right in with that fierce independence and says, ‘No, I will do it by my big self!’” offers Barbre from New Jersey.

One other tip that I thought would be useful came from Arizona native, Carey.

“Our daughter Dayna is 2 years old and wants to do everything herself. When I ask her to do something, like get out of her car seat after I’ve unbuckled her, I give her some time to do it herself (a few seconds). Then if she’s not moving quickly enough, I tell her it’s now her turn, but if she doesn’t do it, then it’ll be my turn.”

All of these tactics  have conflict avoidance in mind. agrees that this is paramount and brings up another important point.

Being able to say “no” is important to toddlers.

“Kids this age are driven by the need to make their own decisions, to be autonomous, and to control their world, and the way they express these needs is through the word no,” the site states.

From the toddler’s perspective, living in a world where the chairs, tables, and sinks are too tall, drawers are too heavy and the stairs are too steep can be frustrating, the site reminds.

The word “no” can be a relief to little ones.

Giving Owen choices, letting him do things for himself and letting him participate in chores and important household  tasks (like getting the mail) will go a long way to reducing his frustration and empowering him.

After all, a sense of empowerment is what the word “no” is all about.

Lastly, reminds readers not to expect their children to always be nice, “and don’t take her ‘no’ personally. Your child is not defiant, angry, or negative—she’s a toddler saying no.’”

I wonder if there are any other ways I can teach Owen to say no?


About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
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