Thursday, February 2, 2012

this week's adventures in motherhood: saying no.

Do you say "no" to your child?

L has been crawling for almost a month now, and she's getting really agile -- not that we can't catch her easily, but she makes a break for it pretty often (usually in search of computer cords, the bathroom, or our shoes). The baby development books I've read all seem to say that babies can start to understand the word "no" right about now -- but should I use it?

We have a family friend who insisted that "no" was a forbidden word in her house -- or anyone's house where her children happened to be. "It will break their spirit," she claimed. Instead, we were all required to redirect them towards more appropriate behavior. I know someone else who felt that redirecting wasn't even necessary (except perhaps in the direst of circumstances) -- children "need to learn for themselves" when it comes to things that are hot, sharp, or otherwise dangerous.

On the other side of things, in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg pooh poohs parents who take all breakables and valuables off shelves and put them away for years until their babies are old enough not to grab and destroy (meaning...10? 25?), saying instead that you should simply teach your baby what "no" means early on and they will learn what's off limits and what isn't. Parents are in charge, she intones -- you need to establish that lesson as early as possible.

I guess I'm finding myself falling into the "trust but verify"-equivalent parenting camp. Just because a baby knows "no" doesn't mean she abides by it. Plus, do you really want to risk it? I'm all for letting L explore to her little heart's content -- I follow her around the house as she snoops into corners, picks up rugs to find out what's underneath, strains to reach things on the coffeetable, and reaches under the bed to grab at dustbunnies storage bags and boxes. Is it all "baby appropriate"? Probably not -- but I figure that, since I'm right there, I'll be able to steer her away from anything truly dangerous if necessary while allowing her the chance to exercise her newfound freedom. But never saying "no"? It seems like a word that you want your kid to come to understand, especially if you need to get their attention in a rapid, dramatic way. I get the problems with overuse, but underuse seems just as damaging, doesn't it?

What are your thoughts on saying "no" to your child -- and where do you draw the line?


  1. I think kids need boundaries and parameters. It helps them make sense of their world. I say "No," to my nieces all the time. A two year doesn't understand, "Please don't touch that you will hurt yourself." She does understand, "No No." We redirect and she moves on. When she approaches the hot stove/computer wire/basement steps we say "No No" and she stops. It's a wonderful thing.

    For what it's parents said no to me. A lot. Thank GOODNESS!!!

  2. I should also add that on the flip side, she understands yes. And the need to ASK for certain things/permissions. For instance...

    Violet: "More Cookie?"

    Me: "YES!! Let's both have more." (remember...I'm auntie not mama;)

  3. I agree with you, Libby -- giving the long explanation is not appropriate for such a little kid. Just say "no" before she catches on fire! :)

  4. We use "no," but we try to follow it with a reason. "No, pulling on Mama's earring will hurt Mama." And we try not to say it with a sense of urgency, we're trying to get her used to not getting what she wants. Notice, I say "try!"

  5. I was just thinking about this yesterday. I usually fall into the redirect camp. However, Liam's started grabbing at my glasses. When I put them back on my face, he thinks it's a funny game, so I just started saying "no" when he starts to grab at them. He just laughs at me, so he clearly doesn't understand what it means. I keep wondering if I need to be firmer, if I should just continue to put them back on or sit him down when he tries to grab at them, or if there's some other way to teach him what type of exploring is appropriate.

  6. My son is two and we have yet to baby proof. We taught him early what is acceptable to play with and what is not, so even when we go to other houses, he stays out of cabinets and doesn't climb on furniture. We know people with kids who were obviously left unattended in a completely childproofed home and I dread when they come over w their child because she is a little terror!

  7. I tell J no or no thank you (usually with a reason) and then redirect her. Recently we have been saying "NO MA'AM, next time you pull Miles' hair you are going into the naughty chair, that is not ok". :) I tend to just ignore behaviors like throwing food off the high chair, screams at home (not in public), whining for an object without using words - they haven't lasted that long because they don't get a reaction. I also offer a lot of suggestions for playing when she keeps getting into stuff she shouldn't. She knows what she should and shouldn't do but often pushes the limits. She also knows she has to sit on chairs and use her manners by saying please, thank you, hello and goodbye. All the hard work of consistency paid off yesterday when I gave her another piece of my mom's brownies and she said "tat to" without prompting.

  8. I agree with Fancy Pants. Children need to learn boundaries. As their parents or caretakers, I believe it's our responsibility to keep them safe and teach them what is acceptable, what is unacceptable, what is safe and what is unsafe. I think redirecting is a great concept and may work well for children with some personality types, but I don't think "never" saying no is the most effective way to parent. I've met adults who do not respect or accept being told no and not only are they incredible disrespectful, but they're also unenjoyable to be around. Obviously, that's an extreme and may not ring true for all children who are not told "no" during their most formative years. It would be interesting to read about a study done regarding children (who are not grown) that were told no versus children who were redirected.