Friday, 9 May 2014

No, mummy No!

 So many variations that little two-letter word.

And I am not talking about the word so favoured by toddlers, Digger included. It clearly empowers him, and the repeat use of it can be tiresome, but I’m happy to report that he uses a lot of yes’s too.

Actually, this post is about me – again. And my use of the word. 
Aimed by the 97cm high being that is my 30-month-old son.

‘Nonononononono’ is completely channelling my own mother. Or my Dad pops up with with a series of pensive and non-committal ‘No…. no…no.’ Or sometimes with a serious ‘NO!’. I tend to inhabit my own more. The ‘Nope’, ‘Naaaahhh…’ or ‘Noooouuuuu..!’ or ‘Nooo way’. I come from a culture where ‘no’ is rife. It can actually be used politely.

Then there’s ‘Interesting…’ (That wonderfully not-so-genuine expression of actual interest). ‘Are you sure?’ or ‘Really?’ to which Digger will reply ‘Yes, sure.’ and ‘Yes, really.’ He definitely has my number.

‘Are you kidding me?!’ get’s the response ‘No. Kidd.’ And Digger usually means it. Like asking for chocolate roses before dinner, as he did tonight.

The English are World Champions of gracious, sly and evasive no’s. I speak as a non-native speaker, after decades as an outsider within. And I am still learning. It’s like tuning an old fashioned radio: sometimes it is all noise, but other times it is clear as day, and that can be a bit frightening. Suddenly understanding something fully. Or just in a new way. Though admittedly, not taking no for an answer, can now be disguised as ‘Sorry, I am a foreigner -  didn’t realise…’. Often I should, and I do, know better. Cheeky. But effective.

I don’t think that many of these nuances are lost on Digger. In fact, I wonder whether this picture isn’t quite familiar to him…

At the moment, I am a little obsessed with parenting books, but that’s a subject for a another time. Suffice to say that I’ve given up finding that all-encompassing toddler owner’s manual with a handy trouble shooting diagram at the back. Now I read for inspiration. I read quicker and more critically. Somehow in my own insecurity and guilt-ridden stab at parenting, I am getting a strong sense of what I believe in, or rather, the mother that I am. And want to be. Wish me luck.

Many parenting experts have voiced opinions on the word ‘No’. It comes under disciplining. In itself a toxic area. Divisive at best. Some parenting styles recommends avoiding ‘No’ all together, or in so far as that is possible. I find the concept really interesting. For an avid user of the ‘nononononono’ this would obviously be a challenge. But then again... I am up for looking critically at any aspect of my parenting.

I experimented with a ‘no’-free world for a few days. But found ‘no’ just appeared in other ways. With the same force and meaning.

It clearly makes sense to cut down on the negative in any relation and form of communication. People bigger, stronger and more able than themselves govern the lives of tots in all aspects. Handing back some autonomy is as powerful as it is necessary for happy and smooth interaction within the family as a whole. 

Are there any parents out there who haven’t experienced the amazing power of the positive zone? Living in a positive groove is self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing. It is very powerful upward spiral.

By the same token negative grooves can be very destructive, and everything can unravel very quickly. We know that too. Even if we have only glimpsed over the edge into the abyss … None of us do need to go down there to know the sway of the negative.

But abandoning ‘no’ seem extreme to me.

‘Is it red?’
‘No, it’s blue’

‘Mummy, can I have an ice cream?’ (or in Diggerish: ‘Izsshhseeehhh?’)
‘No, dinner will be ready in 5 mins.’ (This goes down a lot easier if delivered with a kiss and a smile.)

Those exchanges seem to me to be parenting in full stops. Reasonable ‘no’s. Not much to argue about. Facts. Different kinds of facts for sure. In the latter not so much about physics, as it is about different ideas of what constitutes good eating habits at 5.48pm. At dinner time mum decides when, what and where. But not how much.

‘No’ is the opposite of ‘yes’. It is simply a very useful word.

It is the delivery, the tone of voice that conveys most of the message of ‘No’ in any context. Much more so than the word itself. As per example, ‘I love you’ can be delivered through clenched teeth. Thereby negating any feeling of love or trust for that matter.

‘No’ can be delivered with too much force and can be very scary for a tiny tot. Or it can be understanding, respectful and soft. Those latter no’s are the ones I am practising. Though I am the user of many.

Using ‘STOP!’ instead of ‘No!’ obviously makes a lot of sense. As does ‘Danger!!’. These words can be used very effectively for extreme situations, like toddler heading out into traffic. In fact if they only get used in those situations they remain words of impact. Digger instantly complies when I say ‘STOP’. Delivered with panache, of course, and conviction. I think Digger can hear the fear in my voice. This is discipline on another level.

But no. I will never abandon ‘no’. In life, or in disciplining my son. I’m committed to  cut down, as much as possible. There is always room for that with a ‘no’-ridden background like mine and a toddler in the house.

I’m guessing that no-one out there would like to use the word more. Would they?


  1. We're doing some work at the moment about commands and boundaries and I was amazing at how many times I use the N word. I'm going to see if I can get through the rest of the day, once Missy comes home, without saying it :-)

  2. I'm going to have to seriously assess my use of the word no after reading this. I remember form when the children were toddlers being aware, as you probably are now, but at 9 and 10, I'm not sure. I do know that they each have very different responses to the word. For one it is a firm boundary line not to be crossed. To the other a red rag to a bull creating more desire to have or do what I've said no to. All very interesting.
    Thank you ofr sharing on #WASO

  3. It's hard, and weird not to use it. You could view this blog as a declaration of defeat. ;) Sezz, I would love to hear how your non-no day went with Missy. And Sarah, I get that - the different responses. I even remember that being the case (probably still is!) with me and my siblings.
    As always - your are very welcome Sarah and Vicki - I so enjoy this blogger world! Thank you Adoption Social. ;) The blogs are always inspirational for me.

  4. I'm ok with using no, even though some days it seems as though that's all I ever say! But I am aware that saying no can sometimes just be a reflex, so I try to make sure that if I'm saying 'no' to something that OB wants then I have a proper reason for it! Mind you, some days that all goes out of the window!

    1. Haha. Don't I know that feeling - out the window.
      Yes, the No-reflex, I know it well… And I find myself saying no for no good reason some times. oops. Good challenge for me no doubt. ;)

  5. It is so difficult not to use it. With Jelly (toddler) I can redirect his attention, but boyo hears a hint of it, and argues! A challenge for all of us maybe to use it less.

    1. Thanks. Yes, it is difficult not to use it. Impossible. I find.
      The arguments, oh the arguments… based on a single no.
      'No' - part and parcel of parenthood?

  6. I watched a programme that raises this very subject and I try not to say "no" all the time now. I try to say "you can have that ice-cream after dinner" for example or "we can do that tomorrow". Sometimes you have to say "no". It did make me realise how often we start a sentence with th word though and it is hard to change that. I try to say "Stop" to Pip but naive discovered he just laughs at me the same as if I say "no" at the moment. Good luck with changing your dialogue!

  7. Oh, that programme sounds very interesting! Could you tell me more?
    I just got a whole book on the subject for my birthday ! Haha. I'm hoping there will be some inspiration on how to reduce it. I have some way to go. But I am trying to go easy on myself ( and Digger of course) - and am trying not to set myself too unrealistic targets.