Laurel (16 months old) recently learned how to say no.
This is actually a milestone I look forward to, because each step toward communication lessens the frustration of not being understood. Now she can tell her brother and sister to stop teasing her, she can tell me if she wants milk or juice, and she can give me an indication of what’s going on in her developing mind.
Saying no is a good accomplishment, but it can also be evidence of her sin nature. We don’t like to be told what to do! In the last week, it’s become suddenly common for her to say no, no, no, no, no as we leave the church nursery, as I move her away from the open dryer so I can close it, as I take away the bowl of cereal that she’s playing with. She’s started screaming sometimes when I don’t give her what she wants, and several times she’s waved her hands frantically to push me (or someone else) aside.
Herein is an apt example of how discerning motivation can make a significant difference in how I respond to my child. At this point, she’s not ever had instruction not to say no, so she’s not rebelling as much as she is expressing her opinion that she doesn’t like what is happening. She doesn’t yet know that she is not in charge. Still, I’m taking it seriously.
Is this a developmental stage that will go away without any intervention at all? The problem is, I’ve seen older children who have developed the habit of saying no (accompanied by running away or hitting mother). Her responses right now aren’t too devastating, but the same responses in a three year old aren’t pretty. It doesn’t seem to be simply a phase that will go away without any action, and I want to prevent this development. At the same time, I’ve also seen children stunted of having opinions of their own because they were not ever allowed in any context to disagree with their parents. I’d like to avoid this extreme, if possible. I do want her to learn that mommy is the authority, even if she doesn’t like it. But at the same time, I eventually want her to know that I want her to express her opinion appropriately and it’s okay to say no when daddy calls her so he can tickle her. It’s okay to say no when she’s given the option of having more food. It’s especially okay to say no, should an adult attempt to exploit her innocence.
Should I spank at this time? I don’t give negative consequences when I’m in a teaching stage. That’s the time when I’m defining terms (like saying Yay! You obeyed mommy) or defining boundaries (When mommy says come, you must come), or even showing procedures (Here’s a toy. Put it in the basket. Good work!). So negative consequences are out of the question for the time being.
Should I wait until she understands to force her to obey? I’ve observed mothers trying to convince a child why he or she should obey. There’s a subtle but significant difference between Pick up your toys, we’re going to the park and Pick up your toys… [pause] We’re going to the park. [pause] Your daddy is coming home and doesn’t like it when the toys are all over the floor [pause] You don’t like tripping over toys, do you? They might get broken. In the first example, the reason is given as a courtesy. In the second, the reasons are often given to avoid an unpleasant fit. So then, while I believe giving children advance notice and reasons for actions is a good thing, it should not be necessary. In the first place, a baby will not understand my actions. She doesn’t know that getting to bed on time is an important component for a happy day tomorrow. She simply knows that she likes playing with toys and doesn’t want to be disturbed (even with advance notice). I can try to explain what I’m doing, but ultimately, a baby’s comprehension isn’t sophisticated enough to grasp the significance of many parental actions.
So far, I have decided that when I give a command (with or without explanation), I will not stop to explain when she does not obey, or when she responds with a no. I typically explain after I take action. When I scooped her up at the nursery, I told her Daddy says it’s time to go. We need to go to bed. I am modeling with her what I do with her older siblings: give explanations after they obey.
Should I verbally address the no no no, or should I ignore it as I help her do what I want? I’ve chosen not to ignore it for the most part. If it’s something I’m doing that she doesn’t like, I sometimes ignore her. But if it’s something I’ve asked her to do, then I help her obey, tell her what I want her to say eventually (Say Yes, Ma’am) and go on. I’ve said sternly No screaming and No hitting mommy when she’s screamed or hit. Usually that stops the screaming, but not the crying. I haven’t been worried about the crying. I think that’s something she’ll learn with practice. Since the mild reprimand is effective, I don’t see a need for additional action at this time. Of course, I’ll reevaluate as she get older.