The No Zone
The life of a small child is comprised of a daily onslaught of tempting surfaces begging for the artistry of a crayon, tall places crying out to be scaled, lovely little objects in need of a mouth or nose to visit, and dozens of other alluring glass and liquid and sharp things to be explored through the physics of gravity, the kinetics of concoctions, and the application of Newton’s Laws of Motion. There is only one force powerful enough to defeat this nearly irresistible call of adventure, imagination, and discovery…The No!
Every child knows the power of The No to circumvent the most well-laid plans. Even tiny babies just weeks into the world are introduced to its power when they grasp a fistful of hair while nursing or reach for some lovely, squishy stuff while getting a diaper change. That itty bitty two-letter word is packed with a force beyond comprehension to a toddler, and when they finally figure out how to wrap their little lips around those letters and form the word “NO!” themselves, the possibilities seem limitless!
Do you want a cookie? “No!”…Well, actually, yes, but how cool is it that when I said “No!” I controlled whether or not someone gave me a cookie!
Do you want Daddy to hold you? “No!” Well, yes, but I got to decide whether someone held me or not for a change!
That kind of power and control can go to a little person’s head, for sure! And the change in the big people when the word is used against them clearly demonstrates its incredible value. Their faces go from happy to serious or even angry, and sometimes a little person can even make a big person yell. What dizzying power!
And then little ones finally get a few more words to add…direct quotes from the most powerful beings they know, mommy and daddy…quotes like, “I said ‘No’!” and “Don’t you tell me ‘No’!” and “No means ‘No’!” The authority! The dominion! The clout! And using them against those powerful beings, watching them turn red in the face and yell and threaten…well, it’s scary and makes a small person feel really disconnected and upset…but the surge of intense pleasure at feeling powerful and in control almost makes them feel…like a big person for a moment!
And that’s what they most long to be, just like mommy and daddy…big…and strong…and smart…and powerful.
So what’s a mommy or daddy to do when confronted with The No from their little power-mongers? First, take a deep breath, and then engage those adult brains.
What inherent power is there, really, in a little two-letter word? Only the power we give it! What if, instead of that tiny word being able to push our buttons, we just disconnected the buttons entirely and didn’t react to The No at all? It would simply become a no. Just another word to celebrate our precious little people adding to their fledgling vocabularies.
And what if we backed up even further and disenfranchised The No from the beginning? When our newborn baby’s flailing hands caught a tiny fistful of hair or landed in some squishy stuff, what if we just smiled and gently removed it and kissed those itty bitty little fingers (after a wipey when squishy stuff was involved, of course!)?
What if when our little people headed for the walls to go all Michelangelo on them, we offered alternative canvases?
Or what if when they ascended the kitchen cabinets, we just scooped them up and headed outdoors for some climbing adventures?
The No is only The No when we, the adults, make it The No. And it can become simply a no when we get creative and interactive and stop using a tiny two-letter word like it has “Phenomenal Cosmic Power” in an “itty bitty living space!” (Disney’s Aladdin, 1992)