Andrew paces between the television and child-protected electrical sockets. I can see the wheels in his little brain turning. He’s looking for a cable to gnaw, a danger to pursue. I imagine he’s testing the limits, baiting to see how many times mommy will break her “no-no” record for the day. He’s a smart little creature.
Mischievous like his father, Andrew loves to test boundaries. I have locked every cabinet, baby-gated the kitchen and both bathrooms and baby-bumpered every sharp edge I could find. Yet, Andrew has a keen eye for what I’ve missed. He pulls my heavy textbook from the desk, landing with a sharp thud on his tiny foot. The crying, the wailing, the heartbreaking screams ensue.
I instinctively cry out “No!” and scoop him into my waiting arms. I “shhhh” and coo for what seems like eternity.
December 5th “No” Count: 23
I am trying hard to ban “no” from my mommy vocabulary. It is a daunting task. The apartment is a variable land mine of little dangers. Things I can predict and things I cannot foresee. Recently, Andrew started biting before our hug goodnight. I have the restraint to say “We hug honey, not bite.” I can see he’s being playful and excited and my heart breaks for how many times I gave him a sharp “no” or chastised him for being a curious toddler.
Andrew understands the world “no” enough to pause activity. It takes more effort to redirect his behavior in positive ways. When I do, however, I notice a change. He is more confident and eager to learn. His attention is captured. It becomes a game.
Constantly saying “no” to a child this young quickly loses the intended effect. Like a tug-of-war, Andrew tests the limits. He cries spontaneously or kicks his feet in protest.
I imagine that if I was at work and everything I said, did, or was planning to do was met with a “no” by my boss without explanation or patience, I’d quickly feel irritated, silenced and stifled. I believe that experiential learning is a child’s best friend. My job as a parent is to make sure the space is safe to do that. So I continue to guide and course correct. Every once in a while I slip, the “nooooooooo” falling out of my mouth like a slow-motion, sport’s replay.
The unintended effect of banning “no” from my mommy vocabulary has bled over to work and my personal life. Saying no less makes me a kinder and more patient human being. Without realizing it, Andrew is slowly reprogramming my inherent pessimism.
Let me be clear, having children doesn’t make you a better person overnight. But by looking at the world through a child’s eyes– full of opportunity and magic– I now understand the power of “yes.”
Today’s “No” count: 14
It’s a work in progress…