Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Turns Out You Can Say "NO" Too Often

By Meagan Clanahan

I can almost remember the exact day the “NO’s” came fast and furious. With two increasingly active babies, my husband and I decided it was time to give our twins more space to run. Like they were horses that needed space to let loose. Anyway, we decided it was time to get the house baby-proofed and let them out of the tiny space in the living room they had been relegated to.

So we bought out the baby superstores for any and everywhere proofing device and let them at it. That first morning, I thought I was going to lose my mind. There were a few things I was not willing to compromise on changing since I had pretty much allowed them to be King and Queen of the house. One was my pulling up my blinds. I live in Texas where we are the midst of the longest heat wave since 1980 and opening my blinds to let in the 180 degree heat just wasn’t an option.

The popular refrain that day was “Ryan, NO SIR!” or “Quinn, NO MA’AM!” as they pulled on my blinds, attempted to climb up on couches, pull over chairs, and rearrange my furniture. And each time, I would say it, they would just look at me and almost smile. I felt mocked, I felt powerless, and I felt like I was losing control of my house. Of course, I understood it --- they were discovering, learning, curious. And although I knew that, I felt like saying “No” gave me some sort of magical Mommy Power.

What I quickly learned is that “No!” said repeatedly has little or no power. It’s kind of like the person you work with that just continues talking all of the time and never stops to take a breath --- they may have good things to say, but you stop listening because THEY.TALK.ALL.THE.TIME. That’s kind of how it got to be with the twins. They stopped listening to NO. My feisty little girl just thought it was hilarious to hear it, and it crushed my sensitive boy’s spirit to see Mommy disappointed in him all the time.

I said repeated “No’s” because it was the easy thing to do. Admittedly, a lot of times I am tired, and I do look for the easy way out. Yet, what I found is that instead of saying “No” until I was blue in the face, I could do a few things:

  1. Redirect their energy into a more positive form of play. I.e.: remove them from the situation and show them other fun things they could play within their newly discovered space.
  2. Show them what I wanted them to do instead of just saying the dirty two-letter word. This worked especially well when they continually pitched their sippy cups on the floor. Over and over again, I would show them how to “hand it to Momma when you are all finished”. And one day, they got it. No more “no’s” needed.
  3. Praising them consistently and often for all of the things they did right. Although I know they don’t understand all of the words I say, they do understand the tone of my voice, and it made us all feel better for me to say, “I LOVE the way you are playing so well with your blocks this morning! Great job!” I know it did wonders for my mood --- and they seemed happier as well. Their cheesy, toothy smiles certainly told me that.
Save the “NO” for the big things – the dangerous things. After following steps 1-3, now they LISTEN UP when I say “NO!” It actually does have power now.

Go back to that work situation with the guy who won’t be quiet. What happens when the person who rarely speaks up actually says something during a meeting? People listen because they haven’t heard him over and over again. The babies are similar. They stop what they are doing now when I say "No" because they don’t hear it as a broken record of the same boring refrain.

The best thing? I have an expanded vocabulary outside of that word, AND I have a better relationship with my kids. Yes, it took time. And yes, at times it was frustrating. And yes, yes, yes, there are days when I just want to take the easy way out. But now, instead of just spouting off the word "No", I think through the situation and decide whether the situation truly warrants it.

Playing in the Tupperware cabinet and pulling out all of my lids? Probably not. (Even though on certain days that does make me want to pull my hair out!)

Yanking on the lamp cord when the lamp is about to fall on their head? Yes. “No” would be appropriate then.

Don’t get me wrong – I am all about discipline and my children will have rules and guidelines as they continue to grow up. I am a parent, not a best friend. So they will hear no. Probably again and again and again. But saying "NO" isn’t always the answer.

Meagan is a stay-at-home-mom of boy/girl 14-month-old twins, Ryan and Quinn, a full-time wife to husband, Matt, and a part-time Communications Director for a local non-profit. She lives in Houston, TX where she hasn't had a good hair day in almost 6 years. She loves God, her family, and friends --- and feels blessed to be a twin mommy, even on the most difficult of days. To read more about Meagan and her family's story, please visit their blog at www.clanahanfam.blogspot.com

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  1. I could not agree more! :)
    I have found as they get older (granted my kiddo is only 3.5 years old) that if you use "no" too much it becomes a challenge too. If she's doing something and I just say "no" to it, she wants to do it more. If I instead give her an instruction "Let go of the blinds cord" or "We don't play with that, how about if you go get a book to read" (same sort of redirect you are talking about too) it works soooo much better. It's a daily battle to save the "no" for the big things, but I think it's worth it and I don't think it means I am letting my daughter get away with anything. There are still rules, I just try to express them with a larger vocabulary. :)

  2. great post! I noticed a few years ago I tended to WAY more no's than yes'.
    So, I started giving positive directions to point them in the direction of what they should be doing...

  3. Great article! I think that for kids this young, it's unclear what "no" means because it's so abstract. Also, when you attach an explanation, like, "No, don't climb the bookcase!" they don't necessarily understand the negative but may recognize other words: "Climb? Okay, I will!"

    I recommend teaching your kids the word "unstable" right away. It worked for us!


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