Letting "No" Go...a Little

Kiddo is at it again. The other day he made me laugh in the car. We were driving I5 South, which goes directly under the tram. Joe and I pointed it out. "Look, sweetie, see that tower up there? And those lines? That's the tram."

He looked at it. "Want to see that tramp" he said.

We gently corrected him. "TraMMM. It's a traMMMM, not a tramPP." Then we told him what the tram was for. "People ride up and down the hill on the tram."

To this he replied in all seriousness: "Want to see somebody go down on that tramp." Commence serious laughter in the front seat and a family joke for the ages.

All kidding aside, our smart little guy does some funny things. One is to say "no" to nearly every direction these days. I'm not a parent who gets themselves cornered too often; that is, I've learned long ago not to ask children if they are "ready" to do something I want them to do. Even if they have no difficulty doing it, I'm more of a "it's time to do blah-de-blah" mama than a "oh, darling, are you ready to brush your teeth?" sort of parent. I give my son a lot of freedom and choice, but I own the decisions. And if I decide you need to wear your shoes or wash your hands and you are three and would wear no shoes and eat with filthy fingers, I will tell you that we need to put on the shoes or wash hands. Then you could chose which shoes or if you wanted socks or if it will be the candy-shaped soap or the pump soap. But I don't make the mistake of consulting my child with the hopes that it will result in compliance.

It does for some kids, I'm sure, but not a lot that I know. Sometimes a request met with a big scream and "NO!" tells me that I'm better off disengaging. Something along the lines of "I see that you are hungry, and I need you to wash up before eating. I see that you aren't ready to cooperate, so you may sit on the stool until you are ready to come wash up." Or there's always "You can scream sweet murder in your room, but you may not yell at me in the kitchen. Please go to your room and don't come out until you are ready to wash up." Sure, he'll play in his room, but on a hard day, sometimes it's more about giving both of us space to have our feelings so we're able move on when he's ready. I'm not going to physically force a child into hand-washing unless it's medically necessary, and so I need my little person to be calmed down and ready to do what's asked. He sets the time for how long he is on the stool or in his room, but ultimately, the job gets done. (For those who like a good consequence, it's simple...you must wash your hands before you eat. Natural consequences are always best.)

However, there are a lot of moments when my request is met with a "No!" and then, compliance. I ask Kiddo to go and throw his dirty clothes over the gate that leads down to the basement. "NO" he will say, then very obligingly scoop up the clothes and do just as asked. I tell Kiddo that I need him to pick up his guitar from the kitchen floor and take it to his room. "NO" is followed by a smiling kid reaching for the guitar and putting it away.

These are the moments that don't just give me pause--they make me pause. I have to wait a minute after the "no" to see if it's a false alarm and just a venting or if it's truly a "I will defy you and your crazy ideas about having clean hands and fresh diapers" sort of p.o.-ed quasi-toddler "NO!" In that moment, instead of acting offensively to make him comply, I can study him. I know now that he's more likely to comply if I give him the time to save face, to let him get to a stopping point or just to watch and see what he might be needing. It's these seconds that help me to come up with better game plans for getting what needs to be done actually done, with hopefully as little drama as possible.

I'm growing a little as a parent. I'm getting more comfortable with my son saying "No" to me, knowing that he's his own person and sometimes has to get being the family subordinate out of his system. I don't listen to the "no" necessarily; instead, I try to hear what's behind it. When I'm willing to try and listen to him, it makes it that much easier to help him listen to me.


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