The “N” Word

Today for my facebook status I posted “Sad day: Lewis officially understands what it means when I say “no” to him.” I was partially serious and partially joking in my labeling of this as a sad event, and I was a little surprised at the response that the post got.

It is interesting how this is one of those parenting points that can bring such different reactions and opinions. There are those who use the word “No” constantly and without thinking twice. At the other end of the spectrum are the parents who try to stay as far away from the word as possible. I’d say that I fall somewhere between these extremes, and I tend to agree with the opinions that came out in response to my status.

My husband said: “That sounds like steps toward needing to not tell him “no” since now he will learn what he can and can’t play with.”

My sister’s response was “but that is not sad! he is learning.”

And my aunt had the most to say with “I’m with Anna. He isn’t learning “no” per se, he is learning language. Even if we weren’t verbal and he he didn’t learn the word no, he would learn that your body language meant no. No is just the embodiment of “that will hurt you” or “that’s dangerous”. These are limits that babies need, and eventually limits that children really want. No is actually a caring word. Egads, maybe I should just write a freaking book…”

I agree, it is great to see that he is learning and understanding our words. He has been showing us this with a lot of other words and phrases recently too.

I think that what struck me about it today, and brought me to label it as a “sad day” was the way it happened. He had crawled over to the floor lamp in the bedroom and was reaching out to grab it and pull on it, as he likes to do. It is fairly lightweight and would be easy for him to pull onto himself, so we try to keep him away from it but now that he is more mobile this is becoming harder. I wasn’t right near him to move him away from it, and he somewhat caught me off guard since he had been playing a moment before so my response was just to say “no Lewis!” He looked at me, sat back, and started crying, but did not grab the lamp. My aunt is completely right in her mention of body language, as I’m sure that part of his response was in reaction to my tone of voice and not just the words that I was saying.

Usually when I am telling him “no” I don’t just use that word, I include an explanation. “No, Lewis. We can’t play with Daddy’s guitar because we don’t want it to get broken.” “No grabbing the cords Lewis. That’s not safe.” “You can’t grab that plant, I don’t want dirt all over the carpet.” This has always felt like the most natural way to correct a child to me, and was always how I spoke to the kids I worked with. (This is very similar to the way infants are treated in the RIE philosophy. Janet Lansbury has a really great blog with a lot of information about interacting with babies respectfully in this way.) This time felt different since I hadn’t used any explanation with it, it was just the reactionary “no!” He responds well to my usual way of talking to him, and although he might show some frustration when I tell him he can’t have something he seems to accept it and move on to something new, although of course he likes to come back to the things he is interested in and test the limits over and over. Perhaps it felt a bit like a “sad” thing because I had strayed from my usual style of communicating with him, rather than because of his understanding/reaction.

I feel like I am babbling on a lot here and should wrap this up somehow. I guess what I am trying to say with all of this is that I am happy with my usual use of the word “no” and associated words. I don’t want to go to either extreme in how I use the word. I don’t want to be using it constantly and without real reason. I don’t want to be too limiting to Lewis, and when I do set limits I want there to be a clear reason (such as safety) for the limit, and I think Lewis deserves an explanation and not to just have “no!” shouted at him. But I also don’t want to go to the other extreme of tip-toeing around and never telling him no or denying him anything, as there clearly is an important use of the word. As my aunt stated, it is a way of communicating safety and important limits.

Now, it is time for me to head off to bed. I need to get some important sleep just like my smart little one:

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