Babies start out so innocent and sweet that it’s hard to imagine that you’ll be needing to say anything but sweet nothings into their little ears until they’re at least into the terrible twos, but the truth is that babies start to show their will and preferences far earlier than that. Elvie began acting spunky a couple of months ago, thanks to her much improved health, but it hasn’t been until lately that I’ve needed to start teaching her what the word no means.
I know that some parents choose not to use the word no with their babies and small children; those parents think it is healthier to redirect and be positive in all interactions. I totally understand what they’re getting at, but I am not convinced it’s a good thing for my children. It’s not that I don’t believe in speaking positive words into my children’s lives, but I also believe that they need to learn to hear, respect, and appropriately use the word no. By starting early, I can teach Elvie what the word no means in a way that is actually positive and loving.
For me as a parent, one of the main uses of the word no is to teach boundaries. Children feel more secure when they know what is expected of them and what boundaries are firmly set in caring ways by their parents and other caregivers. Right now, most of the things I that I tell Elvie no about are things that might hurt her or that would make a colossal mess. Most commonly, I am instructing her to keep her hand out of her diaper. This is actually for both reasons I mentioned; we don’t yet know if she is parasite free, and diaper mess on her hands could spread it to other members of the family as well as make a mess I’d prefer not to clean up. I also tell her no when she is reaching for a dish on the table or trying to shove something in her mouth that is a choking hazard. I say it gently, but firmly, and I move her hand away from whatever she is trying to get into.
At first, she laughed at me. I suppose my gentle-but-serious face is funny to her, and it took awhile before she stopped laughing and started realizing I was saying no at the same time I was keeping her from doing something she wanted to do. Now her eyes get wide, as if to ask, “Why are you keeping me from what I love so much?” It’s a cute face, I’ll admit, but I don’t give in. She started getting a little bit frustrated, but I just repeat and move her hand. My goal is to teach her what it means, to show her I am serious, but also to show her that it’s not a big deal to just accept it and move on. From time to time she’ll stop doing something when I say no, more by accident than any comprehension of the word at this point, but I still use the opportunity to praise her. As we move forward, I’ll start using the language I use with her big sister. If she hesitates to do what I ask, I say, “Remember that you need to respect a no,” and then when she has done it, I simply say, “Good job respecting a no.”
I also want to teach my children that their own no should be respected. I provide boundaries for them when they are young, but as they get older, they need to start drawing some of their own boundary lines. My goal is that by the time both my girls are grown, they will know both how to say no with confidence and respect when someone else tells them no. Paving the way even when they are small will help them gain this skill so that they can enjoy healthy, fulfilling relationships as adults.
More of Finding Magnolia on Babble:
Four Months with Elvie
Two Kids: More Than Twice the Work of Just One Kid
With Thanks to Elvie for Finally Letting Me Sleep for More Than an Hour at a Time
Mourning the Adoption Experience I Hoped I’d Have, Which Didn’t Happen