Saying ‘No’ sort of goes along with toddlers like eating pasta and spilling things down their shirt.
Yup, I heard it loud and clear. Just the other day in the shopping centre, a 4 or 5 year old girl threw a container of strawberries in her mother’s trolley, the container burst open, strawberries spilled everywhere and the mum yells out, ‘YOU STUPID IDIOT!’. The shops were crazy busy, but everyone heard it. Myself and a handful of mothers were standing around for a split second with our mouths gapping wide open.
I had this vision in my head of this girl, in some 10 or 15 years yelling the same insult to someone else. I see it all the time as a school teacher. Kids parrot what their parents say. Verbatim. With the same tone, and the same incredible unawareness of what words might be flying out of their mouths. How can we blame them? Kids minds are like sponges. I recently read an article that states something like 95% of the ‘wiring’ in a person’s brain happens BEFORE the age of 4 (can’t seem to find the link anywhere, for reference).
I know the topic of saying ‘No’ is nothing new for parent’s of toddlers to talk about, so nothing I’m saying is new, but the strawberry incident reminded me of a parenting endeavor I’ve been following since Margo was learning how to talk; avoiding a ‘No’ mentality. For many parents of toddlers, the word ‘No’ is earning some serious frequent flyer points. Sometimes toddlers even say ‘No’, when they want to say ‘Yes’! Let’s first take a look at ourselves. I dare you to keep track of how many times you say ‘No’ in any one day! I tried and I gave up! Even if it’s a benign ‘No’, like ‘Can we go to the playground, mom?’ and you say, ‘No, we have to eat lunch first’. It’s still a ‘No’. Remember, the toddler is the parrot!
I’m not saying you should never say ‘No’. They have to know what ‘No’ means. ‘No’ is a quick and easy way to say, stop them from hurting themselves. Or, if they’re doing something REALLY REALLY BAD, then there is a time. But, ‘No’ needs to be used sparingly, like a pinch of salt. Margo is not too bad with saying ‘No’. Occasionally, she starts doing the ‘No for everything’, and then I start playing a game with her, I keep saying ‘Yes’ while she is saying ‘No’, we go back and forth, and then I switch it up and say ‘No’, and then she gets confused and says ‘Yes’, and then we have a good laugh. (wasn’t that in some Jim Carrey movie? pregnant brain, I can’t remember anything!’)
It’s not easy to substitute other words for ‘No’. And, it certainly takes patience, and awareness to do so. For example, if Margo’s being rough with something, I will say to her, ‘Let’s be more gentle with our things. Show me how to do it more gently’. This almost always gets a better response than if I say, ‘No, stop it!’.
So, if kids are parrots, like I’ve seen through my experience, I hope that Margo will be sounding like a rational, calm and centered kid by the time she hits school age. I know these toddlers are watching! Toddlers watch their parents fierce, like an animal of prey! You can’t get away with anything with a toddler in the house, especially mine, she’s sharp as a tack! I’m willing to take the extra patience and energy to say words other than ‘No’, or ‘YOU STUPID IDIOT’!’. I don’t know where I would get that extra patience if it wasn’t for the meditation and breathing I’ve been doing every day for ten years, from the Art of Living course. Maybe the strawberry mom should have done the Art of Living course too, and then she would have had more patience and would have found something better to say when her kid spilled strawberries all over the shopping centre floor?