On average, the most common word toddlers hear is, “NO!” (The estimated average is approximately 400 times a day!!) As parents, "NO" is the easiest way to set a limit with a toddler or child, and yet it most likely leads to a tantrum. Since children learn through our input and feedback, and “NO” is a definitive and limiting word, it gives absolutely no feedback to a child on how they are "expected" to explore their new world. Being fully aware of this, I still often find myself (in my mommy shoes) saying or thinking “NO,” “DON'T,” or “STOP!.” So, how can we move from this and continue to set limits for our children? Being aware of our words and actions and the impact they have on children is the first step.
Toddlers get into just about everything! It is their natural curiosity. And being prepared for them to get into anything is a first step. As soon as I feel that dreaded word leaving my lips, I STOP and think “WHY NOT? WHAT exactly is it that I am saying 'NO' to and does it really matter?" As parents we can get caught up in the big control battle without even realizing it, and I have to remind myself to stop and try to see things through his eyes.
For example: Sometimes my son (2 yrs old) can get obsessed with our dogs and he more or less just wants to climb on them. It is easy to say "NO" and remove him from the situation, but I am not providing feedback as to why not. In this case, it is important for me to remove him from that situation because our dogs are important to us and we also want to keep them safe. I take the extra minute and usually say, “Teddy doesn’t like that. Let’s practice gentle touch.” and then I usually model how we pet our dogs. Sometimes he gets it right away, other times we have to repeat the situation a few times. I don't mind HOW many times it takes him. What matters is that in this way I am providing feedback for him and have avoided simply saying dismissing his actions without explaining the cause/reason he "can't" do something (or VERBALLY REDIRECTING* his behavior).
Other times, avoiding "NO" is about offering choices (PHYSICAL REDIRECTION*). Imagine for a moment, someone RUNNING YOUR life everyday, making EVERY decision for you, down to when you nap to when you eat to what you eat. It can be frustrating and hard to communicate, ESPECIALLY if you have not yet mastered the skills to do so. Here's another example: I try to offer as many choices to my son. “Do you want bananas or oranges?” In this similar way, we follow the If/Then model, which can at times be tricky because we don’t want to inadvertently use this model as a threat. “If you take your bath now, then we can read a story.” “If we leave the park now, we can play with daddy at home.”
Another great tip is to create a YES environment at home, to provide a safe and positive environment for children to explore. It has definitely helped us say “NO” much less throughout our day because he can explore our house and really enjoy it. We have never used baby gates and it has fostered his sense of independence and trust. A FEW MORE SENTENCES HERE PLEASE! I have also found that in emergency situations it helps to explain things as well to provide as much information as I can to my son. I have replaced “NO” with “I NEED TO KEEP YOU SAFE,” and we often explain more about what we are keeping him safe from. You can communicate that it is a safety issue without being harsh or needing to punish for a child’s natural curiosity.
Taking the time to try to understand what your toddler may be experiencing is a GREAT place to start. And asking yourself "How would I feel if it was ME in their shoes?" (in regards to how YOU react) is an even better place to grow. Because at the end of the day safe, happy, and healthy babies is all of our goals right?
*For more information on REDIRECTION please check out this AWESOME resource from NUTURINGPARENT.COM!