I have a confession: we rarely say “no” to McKenzie. Now, that’s not to say we let her do whatever she wants…that would not fly. BUT according to one UCLA study, the average 1-year-old hears “no” more than 400 times a day. That’s a lot! And that really stuck with me. So for us, instead of focusing on what she can’t do, we focus on what is acceptable behavior. For example, instead of “NO RUNNING!” we’ll say, “[ALWAYS] WALK!” There’s a way to say the exact same thing in a positive way…so why not? We make a concerted effort to be positive, and I think it’s made a huge difference in her life! She has a very positive attitude, and now that she’s more independent she needs less direction. And isn’t that our goal as parents? To raise happy, self-directed children? In absolutely NO WAY does she get whatever she wants, but all I’m saying is that we try to approach things in a more positive manner.
Now, of course kids need tough guidance here and there (especially where their safety is concerned), but it can easily be achieved without saying “no.” When she was younger, we’d simply say, “We don’t do that, let’s do this instead…” (redirect) but now that she’s older we’ll ask, “Do we do that? Is that acceptable behavior?…Why not?” And she answers us every time.
Another example is, “We don’t do that, because we could get really hurt if we play with the stove. It doesn’t feel good to be hurt, does it?” Yes, we actually say that…often harshly. We are still firm, but instead of yelling “No, no, no,” she understands why. ((Adding the “because” also does an excellent job staving off the “why?” stage…because you’ve already answered the question.))
Other times, when she asks for candy, a toy, or something else, instead of saying “no,” we’ll reply, “Oh, of course you can have it sometime! After your nap/After lunch/After you clean your room/Tomorrow after school/etc.” Sometimes she fusses, but she responds very differently than she would to a flat-out “no.” And any ensuing argument is quickly remedied by, “Well would you like ______ after school, or not? We don’t reward this kind of behavior.” By responding to her requests in a positive way, she knows that she will eventually get what she wants, which in turn teaches her the importance of delayed gratification (for a fascinating Stanford Study on children, linking delayed gratification and future life success read this Wiki article).
And you may have noticed we really focus on her behavior. It makes me sad when I hear a parent say, “You’re a bad boy,” or “You’re a bad girl.” To a degree, children internalize those words, so I think it’s really important for parents to emphasize that it’s the behavior & actions that are “bad” or unacceptable, and that doesn’t make the child “bad.” After all, every child misbehaves. Now, of course there’s something to be said about “Nature & Nurture”…obviously each individual has predispositions. BUT, I firmly believe that the way we interact with McKenzie influences her behavior in a positive way. It’s simple to change small words we use with our children to create a more positive environment.
UPDATE: After stumbling on this article “10 Types of Moms That Suck” (especially because #9 eerily sounds like it could be a response to this post), I want to clarify what I mean above^^. Now, as I said in the first sentence: we rarely say “no,” not that we never say no. We don’t ONLY do positive reinforcement, that would be impossible. “No” is an important and empowering word for kids to know, so DUH, of course she knows it—and of course she hears it, and of course she uses it. I still maintain that there are more positive ways to say things to children than a basic “no,” that actually cause less headache on my end and are more positive for her in the long run. Especially during the early years. Personally, not having a toddler yell “no” at me every 5 seconds made my life easier. And now that she’s older and wiser (5), we use “no” WAYYYYYY more often. Like when she asks for dessert after every meal. BUT, I still stand behind avoiding the word “no” when possible. I totally understand that the article is a satire intended to highlight every mom’s imperfections, BUT I still feel defensive (not gonna lie). Anyway, a lot of people through the years have asked why she has such good behavior, which is why I wrote that post in the first place. Take it or leave it, this technique worked amazingly well for us.