If you have toddlers, or young children, or children period, odds are you find yourself saying "NO" pretty often. Some days I feel like I haven't said "yes" to anything, and I guess it's part of the territory. But it also makes me feel pretty crappy. As a kid, I didn't like hearing "no" all the time, so I can only imagine what it must make my son feel like.
However, it is important to me that I raise a good, decent human being, who doesn't just act on impulse all the time. This means that somehow I have to teach him boundaries and limits and proper behavior, especially in social settings (I guess in private ones, too - I don't want his future spouse to be like, "Damn your mother let you do some weird stuff.").
And I know that toddlers and testing limits go together like peanut butter and jelly. But I feel like there has to be a better way than constantly yelling "No!" I also feel like I say "no" a lot preemptively, because we learn to anticipate what our kids are going to do - it used to happen to me with teaching. When explaining instructions I would rattle off a list of dos and don'ts. Students would raise their hands to ask a question, and I would say, "Hang on, that's next." They would always ask me how I knew what they were going to ask. I would tell them I could read their minds, but the truth is that you learn to anticipate behaviors, and the same goes for your kids. I spy him eyeing the dog's food, and I know he's going to make a beeline for it next. So I automatically shout, "NO! Leave Bella's food alone!"
But I don't want to be grouchy mom anymore. I don't want "no" to be the primary word that comes out of my mouth. I know it has to be in my vocabulary and I'm not saying it's a bad thing to say no, but there has to be a better way of getting my point across than barking NO twentyfourseventhreesixtyfive. I also don't want him to be afraid of trying new things because Mom is always yelling at him to stop.
So I'm working on this this year. I've come up with four things I can do to help myself and sound less like the Grinch and more like the sweet, loving mom that I am (most of the time).
Reason with him. I know, I know - who am I kidding, trying to reason with a toddler? But you'd be surprised at how often they just get what you're saying. Instead of "NO! Don't eat Bella's food!" I'll try saying something like, "You don't like when Bella takes your food, so let's leave Bella's food alone," or "Bella's food is for doggies, not for people." (Side note: this is really a thing in my house. He eats Bella's food like once a day.)
Encourage the good behaviors. Positive reinforcement always works. We all want to be told we are doing a great job. I've been working on this little by little and I praise him for helping me throw something away, or for not crying hysterically for me when he wakes up in the morning. It's not an instant fix but it is one that will work over time if you do it consistently.
Determine why you are saying no. Are you saying no because something is dangerous? Or just because you don't want them to do something? Or because it's a behavior that isn't socially acceptable? A lot of times I find myself saying no because he could hurt himself. But I also never want to be the reason my son is scared to try new things. So I'm replacing some of my nos with "Be careful," or "Let's try it this way," or "That could be too hot."
Keep them busy. When we let our kids get too bored is when they get into trouble. I'm not saying they should never be bored - that's how imaginations grow - but they need to have something that they can use while they are bored that will not push them to do things they aren't supposed to do. Caleb has a room full of toys - so when I have to get something done, into the playroom he goes. As long as he doesn't get into the closet, nothing in there is off limits to him. Blocks, magnets, crayons, and stickers also work really well for keeping them busy. ;)
I have no idea if it will work or if I can carry it through, but I'm sure as hell going to try. And I have zero answers to these big questions. I'm on this trial and error journey just like you are!
If you have any tips to contribute, let me know in the comments below - I'd LOVE to hear your take on this!