Hearing your toddler using ‘No’ a lot?
You are running behind your child to make them wear the clothes but she is not allowing you to do so. Instead she either starts crying or outrightly says ‘No’. Or, if you are asking your child to sit for his meal, his immediate response is a ‘No’. Sounds familiar? Well, this behavior is commonly observed as the children turn 2 years and above until 3 years of age. So can we do anything about it? Yes, we can. It is possible if we understand the reason behind that behavior.
By the age of 2–2 1/2 years, we know that the child can use language to express themselves. Along with language, they have better coordinated movement. Now, they are exhibiting the distinguishing characteristics of a human being. They are perfectly aware of themselves and their environment. They are waiting and asking to be recognized as an adult.
It is during this time that the children start opposing everything we propose to them. Since this phase coincides with language development, it can be characterized by lots of “no,” “me,” and “mine.” It is a way to communicate to us that we need not make choices or decide for them, but let them make their own choices. This is the first time in your child’s life that they are affirming their identity. It can come as a surprise to most parents if they do not know why are they behaving this way.
Dr. Silvana Montanaro in her book ‘Understanding the Human Being’ refers this phase as the ‘Period of Ego Formation’ in a child. This phase demonstrates the path towards the child’s independence and forming his own individual personality. This does not mean that they no longer need parents. On the contrary, they are now coming to view themselves as a separate being, as opposed to an extension of either parent, and must find ways to demonstrate themselves as such.
So how can we navigate through this period together with our children?
At this stage, the child’s ego needs to be taken into account and be consulted when a decision is to be made for them. These decisions can be about their daily routine such as eating, getting dressed and so on. Behind each of these actions lies the child’s relationship with their environment. Some of the important ways in which we can help our children are:
- Offering Choices — Choices allow a child to experience a sense of ownership over the decisions they make. So if you were putting the footwear for the child while going out until now, you must now offer them choices. For example, you may ask them, “Would you like to wear your boots or a flip-flop?” Always make sure to not give more than two choices for young children as their decision making intelligence is still forming.
Similarly, while offering food to your child, give choices like “Would you like to have some nuts or a banana?” Also, respect their choices. Do not have a snack in mind already that you would want your child to have. For example, though you are giving choice between nuts and a banana, you want your child to have nuts internally. What you will notice is, instead of immediately accepting their choice, you will start convincing the child why he/she should have nuts. This is not respecting the child’s decision. It will confuse the child. And will result in further tantrums.
Offering choices are a beautiful way to involve children in their regular life, however, it may be challenging in the beginning. Say, you offer two choices to your child and he says ‘no’ to both the choices. Firstly, it is alright. Secondly, do not lose your patience. Instead speak concretely and be factual with your child saying, “I see you can’t make the choice here. Let me make the choice for you this time.” Make sure to have certain limits and be consistent with them. Do not change your decision because the child starts to cry. They may be upset at that time but will remember to take the advantage of making an independent choice in future.
2. Rephrase ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions into constructive sentences — Suppose you plan to take your child to the park but want them to use the toilet first. You can see that the child has the urge but is too excited to go out. You ask them, “Do you want to go to the toilet?” They answer ‘No’ but wet themselves soon after. Here, ‘No’ is not an acceptable answer. Instead, you can rephrase your sentence to, “We will be going to the park but let’s use the toilet first.”
The best way to work in harmony with your 2 year old is to think about what needs they have that are not being met. We often relate their tantrums with being hungry or tired and address them by offering a snack or quiet time. But we commonly miss the unmet need, that is to exercise independence.
Offering a challenging task might help your child focus and gain a sense of empowerment. You might ask them to help you with something or show them how much you value their abilities. Collaborate with them and empower them to become an independent individual as they grow in to a resolved adult.