One day I sat in an adjoining room to where my husband and daughter were. I didn’t know particularly what they were up to, but at one point, a full few minutes of the ‘conversation’ was her Daddy saying ‘No, no, don’t touch that. No Ameli, put that down. No, no, I said no’ and so on.
I became conscious of how often we were saying no to Ameli and discussed it with my husband. At first he didn’t really think it such a big deal, but he must have become conscious of it, as he started pointing it out to me when I was doing it too.
We began to realise how difficult it really is to exclude ‘no’ from your vocabulary once Ameli started walking, unpacking things from cupboards, and generally expressing her independence.
It wasn’t until Ameli one day did something she was allowed to, then looked at me and shook her head that I realised that it did have an effect on her.
So we started making a few changes to the way we ‘do’ things.
- For a start, we moved things that shouldn’t be in her reach – glasses, plates, important papers. If they’re not in reach, there’s no need to tell her not to touch them.
- We tried to distract her, or deflect her attention from things she wants but shouldn’t have. She wants to play with a glass, I remove the glass, but instead of saying ”No, don’t play with the glass”, I will take the glass and give her a toy and say, “Let me take that, and you can have this.”
- We change the words that we use to attempt to be more positively reinforcing, and making her think about her actions, rather than constant negatives – “Do you think you should be playing with that?””What do you think Daddy would say if he saw you unpacking his drawer?” “Are you sure that’s where those go?”
- If she’s done something already before we could stop her, such as unpacking the dirty laundry basket, I stand by her and we repack it together, saying something like “Okay, now we need to put everything away again… come on, in the basket… that’s right… thank you for being helpful”
- If she asks for something – and by asks I mean she comes, takes my hand, takes me to what she wants, holds out her hand and says ‘Ta’ with a rising inflection on the ‘a’ (very cute!!) – and it’s not something she can have or do, I will state what she wants, acknowledging that I’ve heard her. For example, “I know you’d like to climb the stairs, but Mama is working now. Why don’t you play with your book and we’ll climb the stairs later?” At her age (13 months), she doesn’t understand a word of it, really, but I will then pick her up, grab her book, make a comfy spot somewhere for her to sit and hand her her book, open a page and point to something on it to help her engage with it. So far, that seems to work.
I have found that since we have embarked on phasing out ‘no’, it’s impact has become greater too. Recently, Ameli ran along a patio, full speed towards the edge yet not looking at it. I yelled ‘NO!’ and she stopped dead, looking at me. I was able to walk over to her, take her hand and show her where she was headed. I honestly believe she got it, as she put her arms around my neck, and let me lift her down.
If we see our children as people, we can understand the frustration of constantly hearing ‘no’, generally because parents are too busy, preoccupied, or tired. If I heard ‘no’ all the time, I’d be frustrated too. If all children want is to be heard, then confirming we’ve heard them before giving them our decision should make that decision easier to accept – not because they like the decision, but because they can see it’s been considered and understood, rather than just a knee-jerk response. And anyway- if you say ‘no’ all the time, they just tune you out in the end!
So, yes, I’m holding my hand up. I might be getting this totally wrong. Perhaps I’ll turn out with a child who knows no boundaries, defies every limit and is thoroughly disobedient. It is possible. But my hope is that in positive instruction, providing alternatives and causing her to think from this young age, not only will it give me time to ‘practice’ and break free from the in-built ‘no’, but it will allow her to grow up as an analytical person aware of her decisions and choices, conscious of her actions, free to explore and ready to take on the world without fear.
How about you? Have you found alternatives to ‘no’ or do you think that’s a step too far?
Alternatives to NO – Kelly Naturally shares fabulously good advice on alternatives to the constant No No No on the Natural Parenting Network
Parents Connect: Saying no to your kids tips on using alternatives to ‘no’
Long Term Benefits of Positive Reinforcement vs Negative Reinforcement