Coraline has many favorite words, among them “mama,” “baba” (which is both nurse and baby), “kit kat,” and “night night.” But no word gets quite as much use these days as that wonderful little, two-letter, I’m-my-own-person-and-will-let-you-know-it word: NO. She says it when she doesn’t like the shirt I’m trying to put on her. Or when she wants a different snack. She likes to walk around and point to all the things she shouldn’t touch — the cat food, the hot mug of coffee, the plant — and shake her finger, saying “no, no, no,” as if that’s it’s name. Yes, she loves to say “no.” The “Terrible Twos” came to our house early.
A popular school of thought these days is that children should be spoken to in positives, rather than negatives: Instead of “Don’t do that,” you say “You can do this.” This approach helps to avoid much of the frustration felt by little people when they’re constantly being told by us not to do the things every fiber of their being is telling them they need to do. And I so agree with this idea. But — surprise, surprise — yet another parenting ideal that is so great theoretically, but totally lacking in practicality on most days. I say “no.” I say it a lot. And I’m quickly learning that the more I say no, the more I say no, if you know what I mean. As we discussed this very thing at a baby shower last weekend, a friend boasted how her 17-month-old son does not say no, unlike so many of his peers. She attributes this to having struck “no” from their household vocabulary. Instead she just says “stop” or shakes her head and says “eh eh.” Try it, she insisted smugly. I secretly hoped she was making it up.
But I gave it a shot. Instead of “no,” I said “stop.” When I wanted to say no, I too stopped and thought about what I was trying to do exactly — was Coraline in danger, or just being annoying? Most of the time, it was the latter, so I just tried to let it go. And wouldn’t you know, it sort of worked! My whole tone was more positive by the end of Day 1, and by Day 2 I realized that Coraline wasn’t saying “no” much either. She also wasn’t hitting, a particularly frustrating toddler behavior I’ve been contending with. It is possible that she has just move beyond the no-nos. Or maybe my positivity really has minimized her frustration — and the less she says no, the less I want to say it. I hope this sort of thing works when she’s 13.