Written by Lorraine Thomas. 'No' is a tiny word that can cause chaos in family homes A few evenings ago – for the first time ever - our mischievous miniature schnauzer, Bonnie, left her comfortable basket in the kitchen and jumped up onto our bed. ‘No Bonnie. You mustn’t do that. Get down,’ my husband had murmured half-heartedly as Bonnie snuggled in between us. A few seconds later, she had rolled over onto her back and he was stroking her tummy. ‘She’s very sweet,’ he whispered and I had to agree. Needless to say, Bonnie now has a regular spot at the bottom of our bed. It reminded me of when my son Josh was little and would clamber over the duvet mountain and wriggle down in between us. When it started, we had both agreed that although we loved him being there, it would probably be better for all of us in the long run if we consistently said ‘no’ – and took him back to his own bed. We said it for a bit, but Josh knew we didn’t really mean it – and he regularly shared our bed for many months. Not long after, we actually bought a wider bed so that we could all fit in comfortably.
No is a tiny word that can cause chaos in family homes. It’s a word that many parents – just like us - use without really meaning it or use it inconsistently. That sends a clear message to our toddlers – when mum or dad say 'no', they really mean 'yes'. Or when mum or dad say 'no' – I know I can get them to change their mind because I’ve done it before and I can do it again. I can shout louder than they can, stamp my foot harder and have bags more energy! And if mum and dad say ‘No’ a lot, that’s what toddlers learn to do too. They always hold up a mirror to us. It’s a word that can strike fear into the hearts of even the strongest parents once their toddler learns it. Take Sally, one of my clients. This two-letter word was causing her a great deal of stress. Her 3-year-old daughter Nina had started to shout it, at full volume, in response to everything that Sally said to her. Nina had suddenly started to use it. Not just occasionally, but all the time. Overnight, she seemed to have turned from an angel into the world’s worst whinger. Sally would ask Nina to pick up a toy, clean her teeth, eat her dinner or get into her pyjamas. All reasonable requests. But with a stamp of the foot and a defiant look, the answer was always the same. ‘NO!’ Sally said she often ended up shouting herself and that it was getting worse. Minor challenges were now becoming major power struggles and she didn’t know where it would end. I assured her that Nina’s behaviour was natural toddler behaviour and said the first step to wrestling back control was to try not to take it personal. Nina’s behaviour indicates an important milestone and shows she’s beginning to assert her independence. It means she’s developing normally and is as important as eating her first Weetabix and taking her first step. Then we set about trying to step into Nina’s shoes and understand the various reasons why she was saying ‘No!’ so often. Once Sally was able to ‘tune in’ and understand what was causing the behaviour – she found it easier to manage it. Sally made a list of some of the different reasons why Nina said no and identified 4 practical strategies she could try. Importantly, all of them were inside Sally’s control – not Nina’s. Reasons For Saying No And Mum’s Action Plan 1 Flexing her muscles and wanting to say she has her own opinions Mum’s action: Recognise the power of giving Nina choices – only ones she is happy with of course, for example, “Do you want to put on your pyjamas or clean your teeth first?” If you involve her in the decision-making, she’ll be much more likely to co-operate and you will have fewer battles. 2 Saying no because she don’t really understand what mum’s asking her to do Nina’s confused and doesn’t really have the language to explain this to mum. She’s frustrated. No is a plain and simple word that she can yell at the top of her voice – and know it will get mum’s attention. Mum’s action: Help Nina develop her language skills so that she learns how to express her feelings. Once she can do this, Sally will have a much better understanding of what’s upsetting her and be able to sort it out. 3 Saying no because you’ve asked them to do something and the job seems overwhelming. “Tidy up your toys” may seem simple to you but to them it may be a huge mountain to climb. They won’t begin to give it a go because they think it’s too big for them to manage and there’s a good chance they may fail. Mum’s action: If Sally thinks this is the case, she’ll suggest they do it together and make it a ‘can do’ task for them. 4 Nina is feeling tired or hungry Behaviour always deteriorates when this happens. Even adults feel and behave more negatively when they’ve had a bad night’s sleep or haven’t had a chance to grab lunch. Mum’s action: Make sure Nina has regular snacks, mealtimes, naps and bedtimes. Sally’s action plan made a big difference and while Nina’s ‘No!’ did not disappear overnight, mum felt much more in control and by changing the way she responded she was able to bring about changes in Nina. So, if you have a toddler who loves the word 'no' – try one of Sally’s ideas or one of my top 10 tips below. But perhaps, most importantly, ‘tune in’ to the way you use the word ‘No’ and make sure that your habits are good enough to pass on to your little one.
Lorraine's 10 Top Tips
1. Use statements. Say “It is time for bed now” instead of “Are you ready for bed?” Don’t ask questions that your toddler can say no to. 2. Give clear and brief directions. They may say no because they don’t understand what you want. 3. Give them a realistic time to do what you want them to do. 4. Avoid idle threats, for example, “If you don’t come right away I’m leaving you in the park.” 5. Let your toddler have some control over what is happening. Let them get into their pushchair, for example, instead of being put in by you. 6. Distract your toddler. Give them a toy or dance around the room with them. They’ll often forget they were about to start arguing with you. 7. Describe how their behaviour makes you feel. Say, “I don’t like to hear you moaning because it makes me feel sad,” instead of, “You are always moaning”. 8. Give your toddler a 5 minute warning so that know they will soon be putting their toys away or leaving etc. Toddlers need structure. They need to know what to expect. 9. Be positive. Praise your toddler when they do co-operate – don’t take it for granted. Behaviour that gets attention gets repeated. 10. Learn to take ‘No’ in your stride.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Lorraine Thomas is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts. She is the Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy and author of ‘Brilliantly Behaved Toddler’. She runs workshops for working parents with clients including Marks & Spencer, Morgan Stanley, Novartis and Barclays. She is used as a parenting expert by Tesco.