Boundaries, Possibilities, and the Infamous "No"

No. You cannot have cat litter for breakfast again. No: mommy's nipple (or eyeball, mouth, hair, ear...) is not a toy. No, the popsicle is only for eating. No- the dog cannot have your chocolate. No. No. No! ...We parents say no a lot, and these are all valid reasons to say no. Anyone who has been around a two year old for more than 2 seconds hears this word brazenly retorted in rebut to even the simplest request. As parents, our lips tire of the word. Yet I worry what impact it is having on our impressionable little ones, particularly during infancy. My daughter is 8 months old today, and already I feel like I am dropping no's like they're hot. She is grabbing everything I hold, hitting her friend in the face, and screaming higher than a troupe of preteen girls at a Bieber concert... While I don't want to be a "no" Nazi, she needs to know that some things are dangerous, untimely, rude, or wrong. She cannot become a well adjusted adult human without understanding the boundaries and consequences of the world.

What's a parent to do?

We should start by asking ourselves who we want our child to become. Personally, I want my Bobblehead to be an honest optimist: to see opportunity in the world. I want her to see what she can do, not what she can't... To focus on the solution, not the limitation.

So I have decided to correct in ways that are specific, and ideally that beg the question in the affirmative.

...Say wha'?

Let's go back to the Bieber concert. Instead of a sharp "no" or a long-winded, "Screaming like that is unacceptable in a restaurant", I will choose to say "not here" which begs the question "then where?". Over time, her brain's neural pathways will forge patterns of working past a restriction to find a solution. Consequently, Baby asks herself what is appropriate and how she can better manage her own behaviors, which  ultimately boosts independence and self-esteem! Good examples of positive corrections are:

Not now. (Then when?) Not like that. (Then how?) Not here. (Then where?) Not that loud. (Then how loud?) Not so much. (Then how much?) Not on the floor. (Then where does it go?) And so on...

Of course, answer your sweetie if they ask you the subsequent question. Suggest alternatives if they seem confused with how to proceed. Another example, if my darling screamo daughter decides to entertain everyone at the restaurant with a crescendo of high C#, I might quickly say, "Aria Rose, not so loud... (Then changing to a whisper tone) Whisper." I am correcting her behavior in the direction of an affirmative question, but also providing her the answer and modeling the preferred behavior. In the (distant) future, I expect to only say "not so loud" prompting her to ask herself what volume is appropriate and adjust accordingly.

A final note: correct your beloved little with a tone that appropriately matches the situation. Yes, you may have said "not now" more times today than Barney ever sang 'I Love You', but try not to lose your ever-loving mind and calmly say "not now" once more. Conversely, if your child is about to chase his ball into the street, a sharp firm "no!" is going to be taken far more seriously, and rightly so. Safety before education.

To sum it up, kids need boundaries, but I don't want to produce a child that sees a world full of no. Ask yourself who you want your child to be. Consider correcting in a manner that encourages your child to ask themselves what is appropriate. Finally, use appropriate tone.

(This effort is my way of applying knowledge of developmental neurobiology, basic behavior modification, and filial play therapy to my parenting. Ask me if you care to know more.)


Who do you want your child to become? What techniques do you find helpful and beneficial for achieving that goal? What techniques have you tried that did not seem to take?