Tuesday, December 05, 2006

All about No

Any parenting book or website worth its salt will tell you that you should avoid saying the word ‘No’ to your toddler too often. And like a lot of optimistic advice that these books offer, it is virtually impossible to follow.

Will someone please tell me how I can keep the dreaded N-word off my lips for more than 10 minutes, when in every 10-minute slot of time Ayaan does atleast one of these very no-worthy things:
  • Slaps, bites or pinches me
  • Pulls my hair
  • Assaults some unsuspecting kid in the park
  • Tries to eat mud
  • Picks up handfuls of mud and throws them at me or other kids
  • Attempts to paint the wall with his food
  • Throws his food at me
  • Climbs up onto high surfaces and prepares to leap right off
  • Tries to climb onto the dining table (which by the way has a glass top and pretty flimsy wrought iron chairs)
  • Tries to throw something out of the window of our fourth floor apartment
  • Finds one of our mobile phones and tries to murder it
  • Tries to play with the electric switches (the sockets are blocked off but still!)

And that’s not quite the end of it – the list could go on for atleast another page. So I don’t know how I can be expected to go for more than 10 minutes without saying no.

What I count as being worthy of uttering the negative can essentially be categorised into 4 categories:


This includes things like launching himself off the 2-foot high sofa, playing with electric switches and trying to investigate the kitchen counter (which is often populated by sharp, glass and/ or hot objects. When it comes to this category, there is no doubt in my mind that there is no option but to let Ayaan know that I am vehemently against what he is doing and that he must stop it RIGHT NOW.


These are actions that destroy items of value such chucking of things out of the window and the use of my mobile phone as a hammer. These items too I place outside the limits of letting Ayaan explore and discover. Let him do that with things that cost under Rs. 100 - destruction on a budget!


This category is about behaviour that is socially unacceptable. My expectations on this are pretty low. I have no problem with reserved behaviour where Ayaan refuses to interact with some over-enthusiastic baby-loving person we meet along the way – that is completely his prerogative. But I do object to violent behaviour towards me or other kids in the park – and this includes both actual violence (slap, pinch, bite, etc.) as well as snatching things that do not belong to him. I have to say that the snatching part is not such a problem and Ayaan will usually give back what he has snatched with good grace when asked to. But the violence… now that’s a whole other cup of tea. I actually have scratches on my face sometimes and the other day, he picked up a pebble and threw it at another kid, completely unprovoked. Again, very no-worthy behaviour.


This is the hardest one. It is very difficult to draw the boundaries between learning and discipline here. For example, when Ayaan attempts to paint the wall with his food, should I let him ‘express his creativity’? And when he wants to splash around in the filthy puddle in the park, do I let him enjoy this wonderful experience and forget about germs and the mess in the car from his dirty clothes and shoes? Here I usually decide based on the degree to which the mess is reversible. So food on the wall and mud stains on the car upholstery are clearly out but playing with dry mud, emptying the onion rack and pouring water on the floor is okay.

Anyway, that was my side of the story. But that’s not all. What does Ayaan have to say on this subject? When I say this word to him, his reaction is one of the following:

  • He actually listens and obeys – a rare but satisfying response. He does this for a few things like not entering the loo and not walking out of the park gate but mostly he doesn’t approve of the word.
  • He pretends that I never said it and continues with the offending task that he is being reprimanded for. This is what I call his denial mode. If I repeat the N-word often enough, it will result in one of the other reactions recounted below.
  • He looks at me, nods his head in disagreement and goes back to what he was doing. This is the toddler equivalent of showing me the finger.
  • He screws up his face and starts crying – this usually happens if he’s already pissed off in general or if I utter a particularly violent ‘No’.
  • If he has hit me and I say ‘No’, he will sometimes smile and press his face to mine in an imitation of a kiss in an effort to placate me. Basically, the rascal knows he did something wrong and he is admitting it and apologising in his own (very cute) way but do you think that stops him from doing it again just a little later? I would have to say no.

And of course, no discourse on the subject would be complete without an account of Ayaan’s love affair with the sentiment of refusal, especially when it originates with him. It’s like he’s suddenly woken up to the delightful (for him) fact that he has the fundamental right of choice and he can exercise it with a simple movement of his head. Sometimes he will say no just for the heck of it – because he can. Like when I know he is thirsty and offer him a drink of water, he will shake his violently as if I have suggested the most unthinkable thing ever and then just moments later, he will go up and pick up his sippy cup and drink as if it were going out of fashion…


  1. No physical violence in my house.One cardinal rule they cannot break!

    It's okay to say 'no' to the kids and to take a little smart mouth comments but never take a slap or a hit even for a joke.That should be a BIG no no.

    Reading your's, I am so glad I got over that stage and mine are little grown up but ofcourse , now it's whole another Enchilada for me:D:D

    It doesn't end until college I guess!! Enjoy until then:)

  2. Terribly cute post!

    Isecond what Asha said...its OK to say NO. Becos you have already figured classified the big crimes from the little misdemenours.

    The little guy is just testing his limits, as you already know and he'll get the hang of things in the longer run.....I think my son went thru it too, and now things are a ittle more settled that way....he understands that his actions have consequences and we are able to talk and reason it out with him. Well, most of the times, if nto always! :)

  3. i guess taking care of a toddler (in some ways) is easier than taking care of the kid when he's a teenager. half the time, u dont KNOW what's up so that u could say 'no' hahah.. so take all the fun in saying 'no' now :D:D

  4. I read somewhere that babies start understanding "No" as early as 6 months of age. I don't think you are "damaging" Ayaan's self-esteem by saying "No" (like some books on this subject say) - IMHO kids need to learn the meaning of No early on. No one in the outside world will have the patience to put up with their antics without saying the N word- we would be doing them disservice if we don't teach them the right values and good manners to get along well with other people.

    And my two cents? It is not the word No that should be avoided, but special attention must be paid to the way it is said and implemented. Also, kids as young as Ayaan might not have the capability to stop the offending behaviour on their own - one can say "no" gently with a very SHORT description of why the activity should be stopped (It is dangerous, it hurts feelings, it is not polite...) and then they should be pointed to another activity that might interest them. Granted that an active kid might go to another potentially dangerous stint - but then who said parenting was supposed to be a liesurely activity? :D

  5. hmmm...disciplining kids is a very tricky subject.
    have you tried punishment to go along with the no?
    like making him go to his room if he slaps, or bringing him back from the playground when he hurts another kid? I read somwhere that kids need to know you mean business!

  6. Just love your posts on parenting. haven't been there myself but can totally get what you are saying here :)

  7. totally understand what you are going through here. we're going through exactly the same 'no' phase at or place. My doc says - its a phase - where the kid is just testing you to see - at what point you will break. To quote him "it will get better - but first it will get worse". Terrible Twos here we come.....

  8. kids are capable of things much greater than us adults.. hahhaha we have to defend ourselves constantly!!!

  9. I think the only reason I'm here today is because my mom kept saying 'no' everytime I lifted a finger!

  10. My! Tough game this is.. bringing up babies!! Wait till he gets brattier by the day :)

  11. [Asha] I am really struggling with the violence thingy. Ayaan's behaviour with other kids seems to be improving (thank God) but he still uses me as his punching bag. The silver lining is that he doesn't do it out of anger but just to express himself.... I hope he gets over this soon.

    [Tharini] He surely is testing his limits. Sometimes, he will do something naughty and then throw me a challenging look almost as if to say 'So, what are you going to do about that?'

    [Sneha] I often think about that - atleast now I have the opportunity to control his behaviour...

    [Gettingthere] Moving onto another dangrous activity, I can deal with but the tantrums!!!

    [Sudha] I think he is a bit young for formal punishments but I am currently trying out a strategy of ignoring the inevitable tantrums

    [M] Thanks :)

    [Something to say] 'Terrible twos' are the scariest phrase I ever heard...

    [Grafx] :)

    [Video] I think our parents intellectualised a lot less about every little element of parenting - I think there were less experts, books and theories floating around.

    [Sapna] I wonder if there is a break or relaxing phase at all - somehow, I really doubt it...

  12. We say No so often that most often the first word that our little brats learn is 'no'. in my case, tara has a meltdown the moment she hears the word 'no'...she hits herself on the head and stuff. i need to hit the parenting books pronto!

  13. Well, the tantrum part is easiest to deal with (depends on what your definition of "easy" is, though :P and how thick-skinned you really can be) You just have to show him who the parent is (be firm with your NO) and that his tantrums DO NOT affect you. All kids throw tantrums because they know thats what hits their parents in the right place - "Oh, I don't have time for this", "Oh, OK. Don't make a scene", "Oh not HERE" "Oh don't hit your HEAD against the wall!" etc. Our daughter once threw a tantrum in Walmart. Sprawled all over the floor, shrieked, cried - the whole enchilada. I and my husband told her she can come to us when she is done with it, left her there and went ahead (we were secretly keeping an eye on her ofcourse) - when she saw she had no audience, she came back to normal PRONTO! That was her first, and last, tantrum. She was a little under 2 at that time. It might not be as easy in practice - but really turning a deaf ear to it is the most effective because all they want to get out of it is your attention.

  14. its very easy to say you must be firm and patient etc.. i dont know those mothers who are firm and patient. I am not one of them. NO is a word I use all the time and it works sometimes and not at others... the Brat has his hitting and punching phases and i just posted on him biting too.... I don't know how you can deal with it patiently after a long tiring day at work, I know I find it hard to deal with because I am running after him all day saying no. All the best with it. I dont know abt books on parenting - I think this whole parenting issue is getting too technical and thought out. nothing like going with instinct ... we all know where to draw the line and what is the right thing for our particular child and situation. i usually give him a light smack on the bottom and two minutes of time out in the crib. i dont know if it will help because he is very defiant.. but i know i have made myself clear. as tharini says.. maybe as they grow older we will be able to reason with them.. as someone else said, maybe we should really fear the teens when you dont know what the hell they are up to in the first place!

  15. [Aqua] That's what I love about this blog. Whenever I have a problem, someone comes up with something that makes me think 'Ok, atleast I don't have to deal with that'. I am referring to the head-hitting, of course

    [Gettingtherenow] Here, public tantrums are a bit embarassing - people look at you as if you must be the worst mother in the world to let your child cry so. I let him cry it out if we are at the park or something but at the mall I give in - it's just too much to have to deal with the disgust of non-parents (who think you don't know how to 'handle' your own kids and the judgement of the other parents (who think you are cruel)...

    [Mad Momma] Agree wholeheartedly. A generation ago, they didn't read books to learn how to be parents and we seem to have turned out just fine...

  16. you amde a very evocative post out of a statement in one of my posts " tagged- anush version- things that u shld not listen to -anyone saying no"

    great that we at least recognize & correct misbehaviour however cute it may seem at home- i know moms who just do not seem to care enough

  17. I understand what you mean. We go through our fair share of this when we visit our families in India. And I think parents there have to modify their parenting style a lot to "conform". We have learnt to step up to them and they have learnt to step back. It took some effort.

    I still maintain that it can be done - I've seen parents living in India do it. e.g. If a kid creates a scene at the mall, just pick him up and leave (even if one of you has to sit in the car with him while the other parent finishes the shopping). As soon as he understands there are consequences to his bad behaviour, i am sure he will be more receptive to his parents' "No".

    As for others' opinions, you just have to develop a "thick" skin. And I am not saying your approach is wrong - everyone has their own parenting style and no style is wrong as long as it isn't causing kids physical or emotional harm. I personally feel Ayaan is lucky to have a mom as caring and patient as you. I have seen moms who don't give two hoots about their kids' safety - much less manners.

  18. [Artnavy] I think moms who don't care enough to correct misbehaviour now will have hell to pay in a few years. Or so I like to tell myself when Ayaan is having one of his particularly nasty tantrums. :)

    [Gettingtherenow] Yup, agree. I normally do the remving him from the scene thingy rather than survive a public meltdown.

  19. Hey...just saw your comment on artnavy's blog.. you had a c-sec too? would you have a birth story in your archives or up in your head that you would want to post? i would like to link up to it on my post. do mail me at themadmomma@gmail.com if you can... and oh.. aqua tells me ur a stephanian too!

  20. I think what is important is that Ayaan has come to understand what a firm 'no' means. U must continue with the same yardstick for similar occasions and not relent. Otherwise he may get confused. He will try to show his will through tantrums but as he grows up you have to make him understand that he will get nothing positive out of this behaviour. On the whole I think you three are getting along fine. Incase u r wondering who the third one is, it is Jai!!

  21. [Madmomma] Will do in a couple of days

    [Patti] Yes, we were worried about Jai's fineness for a bit, but he seems to have caught up now :)

  22. Patti, you said it the best - "....continue with the same yardstick for similar occasions and not relent. Otherwise he may get confused..."

    I guess Mama does know best :D

  23. Sorry, I don't have time to read everyone's comments, so someone may have said this already:

    Those are great things to say "no" to. If you don't do it now, society and government officials will do it later, with far less grace and love than you will. It's our job to say no. Don't feel guilty about it.

  24. When it was only A I started with "hey hey hey" or "you are not suppose to do that" but now since there are 2 of them I don't get to finish a sentence or even 3 words:-) so it "NO" now.. lot quicker:-) And Gudiya use the same so many times a day;-)its bad but no other choice..