The Sweet Sound of No
Discipline must come through liberty. — Maria Montessori
I spent another afternoon hearing the word “No” screamed as a reply to every request of mine. It seems the more you ask your child to do things, your child finds more ways to say “No”. There’s the stumping feet, folded arms across the chest, the dramatic walk away, then for the finality: the slam of the door. This is how a three years old behaves. In between struggling for independence and understanding consequences, your child is confused, to say the least.
Complying seems too much to this tiny human who only lived for a little over three years.
What this little human wants to do is to explore. Everything that comes in the way of exploration is “bad”. The terrible threes mean that you are struggling with your child to not drop a roll of toilet paper into the toilet, eat the favorite sandwich that your child always loved, not dump the whole bucket of toys, not throw toys, not hit another child, and the list goes on and on.
For me, I’m exhausted by the end of the day trying to accomplish the simplest tasks with my son. I never intended to live with a little tyrant. But, that’s what living with my son feels like right now.
The other day, I had a moment of clarity when I was holding my son. He pushed my hand away so that I didn’t plant a kiss on his cheek like I usually do when he’s on my lap.
Rather than fighting with my son when he says “No”, the best thing to do is to work with it. There’s a purpose in saying “No”. In certain circumstances, I would want my son to say “No”. This is why strategies for intentional parenting are so important at this stage.
The upside of saying “No”.
When I imagine scenarios in preschool, there are situations that I would want my son to say “No”. For instance, if another child wants a toy that my child is holding, I want him to say “No, I’m playing with it right now.” To take this further, if someone wants to plant a kiss on my child’s cheek and he’s not comfortable, I want him to say “No” even if it’s a loved one. “No” has its place in learning to assert oneself.
It’s never too early to parent your child to take precautions against the world’s ills.
Obedience vs Defiance
I grew up in a household that asked for total obedience. This was the culture I lived in. Saying “No” to things was frowned upon. In the end, this type of total obedience stunted the growth of my creative life. It also opened me up to different types of abuse by family members. Later on, I became someone who didn’t know how to assert my rights in abusive situations. Learning to be assertive has literally taken a lifetime.
Having seen the destruction of asking for “total obedience”, from early on, I knew that I had to work with my son when he said “No”.
It takes a lot of time. It’s hard work to set firm boundaries while letting him say “No”.
I usually let him go through the entire motion of saying “No”. I watch the dramatics unfold. After he cools down, I go into his room, I sit with him and I play with him for a while. After I’ve connected with him, then I bring up the subject of contention again. It’s funny how 60% of the time, this type of “gentle” behavior from me changes the results entirely. My son is able to comply if I just gave him time to calm down and come to a different conclusion on his own.
Defiance has its place in raising a creative child.
I hate the fact that my child draws everywhere. I tell him not to. I have a blackboard up where he knows he can draw whenever he wants to. I have paper stashes in every room. Yet, he still finds ways to defy this rule. The other day, he went to the sink and wet his fingers so that he can draw on the wall. I laughed. On the one hand, I thought he was pretty creative to think of that. On the other hand, I’m thinking about how I can possibly re-paint every wall in the apartment when it’s time for us to move out.
I didn’t press the issue. We had a good day. Then, during bedtime, I asked him to not draw on the wall, even with wet fingers.
Parenting is all about picking your battles.
I’m raising a boy. It’s more important to me that my son learns what “respect” truly means. This may mean that I will have a hard time getting him to comply with everything now. But, if I repeat consequences, reasons for consequences, and connect with him every day, then he will learn the process of “respect” from me.
Respect may mean “selective” compliance. But, it makes my son think about the reasons, think about consequences, and think about why things have to be done a certain way. In time, this leads to “self-compliance” and “self-discipline”.
I won’t be there all the time (at school, in camp, etc..). I will impart my parenting to him so that he can make the right decisions by himself later on.
“We cannot know the consequences of suppressing a child’s spontaneity when he is just beginning to be active. We may even suffocate life itself. That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.”
― Maria Montessori
About the Author
Jun Wu is a Content Writer for Technology, AI, Data Science, Psychology, and Parenting. She has a background in programming and statistics. On her spare time, she writes poetry and blogs on her website.