The Power of No

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

I’ve started saying “No” to Baby E.

No to nursing when my nipples have had enough.

No to him playing with electrical cords.

No to him playing in the kitchen cabinets.

He usually just looks at me and laughs then goes right back to doing what I didn’t want him to do in the first place. Such is the way of the toddler.

I’m trying to redirect him instead of just saying no all the time. Most of the time I am able to do this.

Well, some of the time.

That “No” comes flying out of my mouth before I’ve even realized what has happened.

Such is the way of the mama.

I know that the oft-cited danger of saying “No” to a toddler all the time is that it encourages them to start saying “No” back to you for any and everything. However, I think that children learn how to say “No” anyway, verbally or otherwise, regardless of how many times they’ve heard you say it.

But here’s the thing: I think “No” is a really important word for Baby E to learn. And as tempting as it is, I don’t mean this in a “reinforce the parent-child hierarchy” way. I mean that “No” is important because it helps us set up boundaries. And just like I have boundaries for Baby E, he has boundaries for me. By honoring his “no” I’m hopefully teaching him to honor mine and the “no” of others.

This is a hard lesson to put into practice when I’m steeped in a culture that doesn’t truly treat children as fully realized human beings. It’s a hard thing to practice when I’m trying to keep Baby E’s reasoning abilities in perspective while balancing his need for safety and care with honoring his right to say no.

But it’s important enough for me to keep trying and doing. I want my son to be well aware of his rights as an individual but I also want him to be aware of  and respect the rights of others. Honoring his “No” is just the first step.

Posted on November 4, 2010, in General mommyness, Gentle Discipline, Life with a toddler, Raising a boy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I wish I’d said “No” less. Kids learn “no” without we parents/carers/adults having to say it. Many times you can just remove the electrical cords or put the kid down from the nursing and say, “Mama hurts”. Funny… I spoke in third person way too much to my kids and when I remember their baby/toddlerhoods I revert to it!

    The “no” issue is never over… my kids are 6 and 8 and can take care of themselves and make so many of their decisions themselves and I’m still stumbling on the “no”.

    • I speak in third person too with my son, lol. I babysit some older kids sometimes so they’re my opportunity to find creative ways of saying “no” without saying “no” or letting them make decisions without me getting in the way. Of course, when it’s my own child, it might not be as easy.

  2. I’m in the same boat. “no” is like a trigger reaction for me. I have been working on the redirection and finding the balance between letting her learn (often the hard way) and making sure she is not endangered, but it doesn’t come easy. we are a society of NO. good post!

  3. Yeah, I never said “no” with my first–I was careful to use other words. She listened to me well and didn’t start using it until she was well over two. With my second, I way overuse it because I got used to saying no to my first during pregnancy so much. I wish I hadn’t. “No” was one of my second’s first words and she’s a pretty negative kid. She doesn’t listen to me, even though I respect her right to say no. I know most of it is her personality, but I feel she’s not getting as much respect from me because I’m short answering her too much. A lot of that is that I’ve been exhausted since she was born, it seems (she’ll be 2 in a couple months). And now she needs to potty, so I’ll end it here :/

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