My daughter is 20 months old and a frequent user of the word “No”. I knew this phase would come and I’d heard all the same horror stories about it that most parents do, but when she did finally learn the word “No” I was surprised to find that every single time she said it, it was exactly what she meant.
It wasn’t a form of rebellion, or a means to torture me by refusing every single possible thing I came near her with; it was a means of finding and embracing her own personal sovereignty. Of letting me know what she thought was wrong and what she didn’t like. So instead of overpowering her like so many parents do I made a decision to respect her instead. When I ask her a question and she says “No” and I feel that she understood me and fully grasped the concept of what I was putting before her then I take the “No” at face value and that’s it, she said “No” and “No” means “No”.
Now there are always some exceptions like when we’re getting ready to go in the morning and she doesn’t want to wear clothes or be strapped into her car seat, but I also make sure not to offer up these things as options. I don’t ask her “Can we brush your teeth now?” I tell her “It’s time to brush your teeth!”, but if I do ask her a question like “Would you like yogurt for lunch?” or “Can I give you a kiss?” and she says “No” then we don’t have yogurt, and as much as I’d like to give her a big kiss on the cheek I don’t because she obviously isn’t interested at that moment and I respect that.
Another reason I think it’s so important to respect the “No” from an early age (especially for girls) is because you should always feel with every part of your being that when you say “No” that is does in fact mean “No” and if someone doesn’t respect that and tries to force you into something you are not comfortable with you should feel empowered by the fact that you gave them an easily understandable statement meaning that you did not, do not, and would not willingly participate in whatever it is they are suggesting (or forcing) and that you have every right to use any means possible to remove yourself from the situation and that by saying “No” you were in the right and they were without a doubt in the wrong. No shame should be felt, No guilt should be lived with because you wholly believe in the meaning of your “No”.
So as I try to get my toddler dressed this morning and make the mistake of asking her “Would you like to put on your shirt now?” and clearly hearing her pronounce “NO!” I respect that she means it and wait a little longer before rephrasing and telling her “It’s time to put on your shirt now”.