A couple of days ago, I called up a friend of mine to chat and find out how she’s doing. As we chatted, she would intermittently call out instructions to her toddler who was running around and playing while Mom was on the phone. During the course of the conversation, she confessed that as her baby was turning into a toddler with a mind of his own, she found herself saying “No” or “Don’t” all the time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t proving to be as effective as she would have liked it to be.
The danger with saying “No” frequently is that over a period of time, the word itself loses all meaning. You will feel like you are being negative all the time and your child will start to ignore your instructions. If parents are constantly saying “No, don’t touch the stereo” or “No, don’t put that in your mouth” or “No, stop banging the block on the table”, the child is overwhelmed with information and struggles to process it all at once.
While saying “No” is often necessary and an important part of the disciplinary process, as parents, we must learn how and when to use the term effectively. There are various ways in which we can reduce the number of times we say “No” so that when we do have to use it in case a child is likely to hurt himself or others, it has the desired effect of the child stopping what he is doing immediately.
Start by putting things out of reach. Along with the regular child-proofing of your house, make sure you take a second look around and put away things that are breakable or important to you. Toddlers are innately curious and like to spend their time touching and exploring objects. By reducing or replacing the number of things that you will be preventing your child from touching, you are enabling your child to explore his environment without fear. This allows you to use your “No” more sporadically and therefore, more effectively for things that are within his reach but you cannot remove, like a gas stove.
One of the ways in which you can reduce the number of negative commands you issue to your child is to demonstrate the kind of behaviour that you want to see. If he is throwing the blocks around the house, say, “Come on, let’s stack the blocks. I’ll show you how. You can help me.” Show them what you would like them to do rather than tell them what you don’t want them to do. ‘K’, a mother of an energetic toddler and a pet parent of two adorable dogs, found herself continuously telling her toddler to stop pulling the dogs’ fur. She was unable to get him to understand that the dogs get hurt when their fur is pulled. She switched tactics and started telling him to “pet the dogs instead” and showed him how. Now, every time he attempts to pull, instead of saying, “No, don’t do that”, she immediately says “Let’s pet the doggy” and he automatically starts to gently pet the dogs.
It can be highly frustrating to deal with a toddler who doesn’t listen to you when you say no or when you attempt to stop him from doing something you don’t want him to do. But, it’s important to stay calm. Don’t give an incident more attention than it deserves. In a toddler’s mind, any attention is good attention. If you get hassled and hyper about his jumping on the bed, your toddler gets the message that by jumping on the bed, I will immediately get Mama’s attention. If your child is jumping on the bed and it is bothering you, calmly tell him that beds are for sitting or lying down. Bring a book and say, “Let’s read on the bed.”
When all else fails, distract him. Toddlers have a very short attention span. Use it to your advantage. If your toddler has grabbed hold of something that you don’t want him playing with, distract him with an alternative. “Oh look! Here are the crayons we were looking for today.”
As your toddler grows and develops a mind of his own, offer him choices to help him assert himself. By providing age-appropriate options, he feels an element of control in the decision making process. Put out two sets of clothes that you want him to wear and let him choose one. “Do you want to play with the yellow duck or the blue ball in the bath today?” Having a bath is not an option but choosing which toy to play with is an option. By providing choices, your toddler will be more inclined to do what you need him to do. It will give him the sense of independence that he craves.
Take a moment to think before you bark instructions to your child. Is what he is doing dangerous? Is he about to hurt himself or somebody else? Is he creating a mess? Can we turn the situation around? Has your child dropped a glass of water on the ground? Has he pulled a few utensils out of the kitchen cupboard? Sometimes, we start scolding even before we realise that the incident or situation is not as bad as it seems. Before you start admonishing him, think about how he could be occupied wiping up the water with a cloth. Or if he could play with the utensils while you make this evening’s dinner.
Choose your words carefully. By being careful about when we say no or why we say no, we add value to the word and when we do use it, our children will learn to listen.