I am at a bit of a loss as to how to move forward with my son. He is 26 months and has recently started saying ‘no’ to all of my requests, regardless of what they are. My husband and I try very hard to pose our responses positively, avoiding ‘no’ as much as possible. Rather than ‘no throwing food’, we would say ‘please leave your food on your plate’. So, we are not sure where this is coming from. Also it makes things quite difficult. I am hoping you have some advice.
One example is getting into his pj’s for bedtime. This is now taking well over half an hour because he just refuses to put them on. I am trying very hard not to force him and give him as much opportunity to do it himself as possible, but it is making no difference. He is not throwing tantrums though, just quite matter-of-factly saying ‘no’ and then going about his business. I find myself just sitting there at a loss, not knowing what to do.
If you have any advice at all I would really appreciate it.
Thank you again for your wisdom.
This made me smile. Your boy sounds adorable! NO is exactly what he should be saying at this time of his life. It is a POWER word key to his burgeoning autonomy. He’s feeling his independence. Don’t let it rattle you in the least. In fact, welcome his differing opinion and acknowledge it. That’s what he wants. Just don’t give in to it.
So, when he says “No, I don’t want to put my PJs on”, stay calm. “Oh, I hear you. You don’t want to put on your PJs. What would you like to wear to bed?” Or maybe, “Which of these (2) PJs will you wear?” Or, “I hear you don’t want to put on your PJs. Perfectly understandable. But we won’t have time for a book if you can’t get them on in the next 5 minutes.” Or “Would you like to put these on now, or in five minutes?”
The key is to continue to encourage his autonomy and give him options so that he doesn’t feel bossed around. Be effortlessly in charge. Totally unthreatened. Worst case scenario: he sleeps with his regular clothes on. Even then, you could always try, “I want you to be comfortable, so I’m going to help you put these pajamas on now. Or, can you do it yourself?” Then you might say, “We don’t have time for a book now because you didn’t put your PJ’s on in time, but hopefully tomorrow we’ll get to bed a little earlier. I love you very much… Goodnight.”
Saying “Please leave the food on your plate” might work sometimes, but he may need options there, too. Throwing food is a pretty clear signal that he’s not hungry. I don’t believe that it’s punitive to give children the boundary, “While you are eating, I want your food to stay on the plate. Throwing the food means you are done. I’m going to put the food away for later when you’re hungry again.”
Does this make sense? Just keep in mind that NO is a very healthy, positive word for your boy to be experimenting with right now, and a reflection of his secure attachment. You might even play a game with him where you offer him a bunch of choices (toys, clothes, food, whatever), and he gets to keep saying NO. I remember spontaneously beginning a game like this with my toddler daughter when she was in the bath. She was playing with the bath toys, pouring water out of a cup or bottle, I think. And when she hesitated a little before doing whatever it was, I said a big NO in a way that she knew was teasing. Then she kept repeating the action and saying, “Say NO to me” with a big smile on her face. And I did, while acting very serious. She got to experience the powerful feeling of going against my “wishes”. That game became an instant favorite to be repeated at every bath. She couldn’t get enough of it!
Hope this helps…
Thank you so much for the advice. I have been trying to give J choices, and it has made a world of difference. I gave him a choice of pj’s, a choice of two stories, that sort of thing. He has really responded well to having some options. Also it has been a big stress reliever for me. Yesterday morning he wouldn’t get dressed. I gave him a choice of clothes but he still refused. So I calmly said that I heard that he didn’t want to get dressed right now and that I was going to make some breakfast, and when he was ready to get dressed to let me know and I would come and help him. He immediately said he was ready to get dressed and have breakfast. It takes a bit of practice but we are both communicating better.
I try to be calm and respectful, but it is really helpful to have the actual words to say. I did actually say exactly what you wrote. I felt prepared, J felt heard, and we are happier.
Kate has a lovely and engaging website, An Everyday Story, in which she shares her experiences home-educating her two children, primarily using Reggio principles of child-led investigations as well as Montessori principles for living. I highly recommend it!
I offer a complete guide to toddler behavior and respectful boundaries in my new book:
(Photo by Just Taken Pics on Flickr.)