WHEN “NO” DOESN’T WORK
The parent’s problem:
My daughter is 33 months old, quite verbal and intelligent–and assertive. That is to say, she has difficulty accepting “no,” and will not come to me when I tell her to stop. We try to use the word “no” only for the big things, such as attempting to plug a cord into an outlet. Still, she will test us after we have emphatically said “stop,” “no” or “don’t touch.” She seems to try one or two more times until we threaten her with time-out or a spanking.
Also, when we say “no” she often cries loudly, swings her arms, stomps her feet and occasionally takes a swing at her mother.
Are we expecting too much? In other words, is it developmentally appropriate for us to expect her to respond to “no” or “stop,” or do we have to continue to use distractions? At what point do we punish her? For example, after we have told her to stop touching an electrical cord and she continues, should we then go to time-out or spank her, or simply distract her?
We want to teach her the importance of “no” without her having a fit. If she does have a fit, should we ignore it or punish her?
What you need is a combination of firmness and redirection. Let’s use the electric cord situation as an example. Your child takes a cord and is attempting to plug it into an outlet. You say, “No, stop!” yet she continues to proceed toward the outlet.
** Why? Young children do not have flexible minds (even at 33 months). If you tell them “No, stop!” they can’t think of anything else to do, so they just keep heading toward the forbidden object; they’re locked into completing that action. So if you really don’t want your daughter to attempt to put the plug in the outlet, you must get up out of your chair, head toward her, take the cord out of her hand and say, “No, I won’t let you plug the cord into the outlet. It’s dangerous.” Then redirect her to another activity.
STILL TOO YOUNG FOR SELF-CONTROL
The line “I won’t let you” is key. It tells the child that you know she can’t stop herself because she lacks self-control, so you’ll provide the control for her. In time, between three and five years, the control you’re providing will transfer from you to her.
Children don’t like it when they can’t do what they want; nevertheless, it’s a parent’s job to guide children to safe and appropriate behavior. If your child explodes with a temper tantrum when you take the electric cord out of her hand, say, “I know you want to plug this into the wall just like Mommy and Daddy do, but I won’t let you because it’s dangerous. You can be mad but I’m not going to allow you to do it.” Now stay with your child, don’t talk or reason further, but don’t isolate or desert her either. Your presence helps absorb all those angry emotions. Her fit will subside.
Finally, notice and talk about what she does that’s right. Give a play-by-play account of her positive actions. Don’t let naughty behavior slip by, just make sure you’re taking time to call attention to her positive behavior.
Miraculously, you’ll see more and more of it.
Jan Faull, a child development and behavior specialist, is in her 20th year as a parent education instructor and public speaker.