Main Reading: Transform “No” into “Yes”

Why do toddlers and preschoolers say “No” to us? When I ask this question in talks and workshops, the answers I get tend to run along these lines:

-They’re differentiating themselves from us

-They’re testing us

-They’re asking for clear boundaries

-They’re expressing their individuality

 

I’d like to make a suggestion that has the power to change your day-to-day interactions with your child in an enormously powerful way. It starts with the idea that while all of the things in the list above are absolutely important developmental undertakings during the toddler years, they are actually NOT the reasons that kids say “No” to us the vast majority of the time.   There is actually something else going on altogether. When we can hear what children are really trying to say when they say “No,” our response can change and our days can go more smoothly and joyfully.

So what are kids really trying to tell us when they say “No?” Let’s take a look at the following interaction between Ashley (age 2 years 8 months) and her Mom, and then we’ll explore what might be going on:

“Ashley, it’s time for us to put our jackets on!”

“No!”

“What?!” Mom puts her hands to her cheeks with a shocked expression on her face. Ashley looks at her mom with a devilish glint in her eye, so Mom responds by stretching her hands out and wiggling her fingers, leaning forward and saying, “I’m gonna get you! I’m gonna get you!”

Ashley shrieks happily and runs away. They play chase for about thirty seconds, and then Mom picks her up and slings her over her shoulder. She walks to the coats turning from side to side, saying, “Where’s Ashley? Where did she go? I know she was here a minute ago!” Giggles emanate from behind her back. Mom puts her down and says, with exaggerated surprise, “Hey, how did you get here?!” More giggles.

Mom takes Ashley’s jacket down from its hook and sticks her hand in the cuff of the sleeve, and wiggling it around, saying, “Cheep-cheep! Cheep-cheep!” She looks at Ashley in mock amazement. “What’s that? Is there something in your jacket sleeve?” She wiggles her hand again. Ashley looks intrigued and when Mom holds her coat open Ashley puts her arm in the sleeve, reaching down toward the hand. As her hand comes down to Mom’s, Mom pulls her hand out and lets it flutter away, whistling a little birdy tune. “A bird in your sleeve!” She and Ashley share a happy smile.

“Do it again!” Ashley exclaims, holding out the other sleeve. They do the exact same thing over again, and then Mom starts the zipper and holds the bottom so Ashley can pull it up the rest of the way. They slip their shoes on and walk outside, singing a little ‘let’s go’ song as they walk.

Does this type of scene feel familiar to you? Or does it seem like that mysterious “toddler magic” that some people seem to have but feels totally alien to you? And what’s going on here, anyway? What is it that makes it “toddler magic,” and why does it work?

We see that when Mom turns getting ready to go into a game, Ashley’s resistance melts away. Why is that? Does Ashley no longer care about differentiating herself from her mother? Does she no longer need firm boundaries? Is her mom somehow tricking her, or distracting her into forgetting these needs?

To answer these questions, let’s think about an alternate scenario, where Ashley’s mom is tired, or in a hurry, or just doesn’t have the energy for chasing-games and imaginary birds. This time when Ashley says, “No!” Mom gets stern. She looks Ashley in the eye and says in a serious tone, “Ashley, it’s time to go. Come on, get your coat on.” She gets the coat and holds it out. If Ashley were really asking for boundaries, don’t you think that this firm stance would make her feel reassured? But it doesn’t reassure her, does it? What’s likely to happen instead? It might be anything from grudging acceptance, all the way to a full-on meltdown complete with Mom stuffing her into the coat and carrying her to the car because she won’t get her shoes on. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there at some time or another.

The reason for this negative reaction is that Ashley isn’t asking for boundaries when she says “No.” She isn’t asking for differentiation or expressing herself when she says “No.” She’s asking for connection. Connection to others is one of our universal needs, and when Ashley’s mom responds by turning it into a game and making it enjoyable, that request for connection has been met. Once her request for connection has been met, then Ashley is happy to go along with what her mom wants.

Ashley is not alone in this, and she is not unusual. In fact, she is pretty normal. And this is the idea that will transform your relationship with your child: the idea that most children, most of the times that they say “No,” are really saying, “I don’t feel as connected to you right now as I wish I did.”

When we think about the interaction through this lens, suddenly a lot of pieces click into place. For example, often when we meet a child’s “No” with firmness or impatience, the negative reaction we get from them can feel completely disproportionate to our response. A complete meltdown because you asked her to put her jacket on? That reaction seems over-the-top when it happens with your child, but is it really so out of line? When we consider that the child’s “No” is really a request for connection, that response starts to make more sense. Consider how you might feel if something similar happened to you:

Imagine that you’re feeling distant from your spouse or partner. Perhaps he (or she) has been extra busy lately, spending more and more time on the computer. Finally one evening you take a deep breath and say, “Honey, I’ve been feeling really disconnected lately. Will you put your work down for a moment and just give me a hug?” But instead of stopping and hugging you, your spouse looks up with a bit of an eye-roll, sighs and says, “I really just don’t have time for this right now. Why are you always doing this? Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Ouch. When we screw up our courage to ask for connection and we’re rebuffed, it really hurts, doesn’t it? You might even feel like having a bit of a melt-down yourself. Imagine how much better it would be if instead, your partner looks up at you and says, “Thanks for reminding me to take a break and give you a hug, sweetie. I love you so much.” Then he (or she) gives you a juicy, heart-felt hug.   He might still need to continue working on the computer after that, but you wouldn’t mind so much, would you?

So let’s go back to little Ashley and her mom for a moment. If we translate Ashley’s “No” into “I don’t feel as connected to you as I wish I did right now,” then Ashley’s mom’s response is just right. She’s not distracting her child, and she’s not tricking her in any way. She’s responding to Ashley’s request for connection, and when Ashley feels reconnected she doesn’t just grudgingly go along with what her mom has asked her to do; she does it joyfully.

 

It seems counter-intuitive that when we ask a child to do something and they refuse, it’s really because they want to feel closer to us. And of course, in reality we don’t actually know what young children are feeling or thinking at any given time. However, whether it’s “actually” true or not, thinking in this way can change our lives for the better. Certainly, from my own experiences I know that when I think about things that way, when I translate “No” into “I don’t feel as connected to you as I wish I did right now,” then my responses generate closeness and I’m much more likely to get a child who does what I ask. It turns into a win-win interaction.

Of course it would be so much nicer and easier if, when our young children felt disconnected from us, they would calmly state, “When you ask me to get my coat on, I feel resistance because I’m enjoying my play. Your energy feels rushed and you’re not even really paying attention to me. Could you please take a moment to reconnect first? Then I’d be happy to get my coat on.” But of course they can’t. Even most adults couldn’t be that clear and open!  But young children are at a double-disadvantage. The first disadvantage is that they don’t have the vocabulary, consciousness, or practice to say something like that. They simply know that when we are hurried or distracted they feel resistance, and when we are fun and connecting they’re eager for more. The second disadvantage stems from when they are most likely to feel disconnected: when we’re tired, when we’re running late, when the baby’s fussy and needs to be changed, when we’re over-committed or overwhelmed. In short, they tend to say no at the very times when saying no is the least likely to get a laugh and a fun game out of us. Perhaps we even know that things would go better if we could turn it into a game. But, like the spouse in the example, we think, “I don’t have time for this.” Because we don’t realize that the “No” is really a request for connection, and the game is what helps the child feel reconnected, the game doesn’t feel worthwhile to us when we’re tired or in a hurry. So we don’t have the patience and we don’t take the time, and when the meltdown ensues, we sigh and grit our teeth, and carry them to the car. (It’s only a phase, right? Just get through it…)

 

If a “No” is really a request for connection, then the next practical question is, “What can I do to reconnect with my child?” Practically speaking, what actions feel connecting for young children?

We know that the enjoyment of connecting with another person happens at every age, but the actions that accomplish that change over the months and years. Regardless of age, you can tell that connection is happening when a person’s reaction is, “Yes! Let’s do it again!” An adult might feel connected by having a deep conversation where she (or he) talks about past experiences that were important in her life, and the other person shares their experiences in return. A pair of teenage boys might feel connected by doing adrenaline-inducing activities together. I remember from my own childhood around age eight, spending hours upon hours with my friend Heather making up dance routines where we would twirl long ribbons on sticks. I’d run over to her house each day, eager to get started. For each of these pairs the activities are different, but in each case each person had the feeling of “Yes! Let’s do it again!” They are feeling connected.

What makes the young child say, “Again!”? We know that “turning it into a game” can generate that response. But what if you’re not a “fun” parent? How can you create a game out of nothing? What types of games work? What if we get bored of the same old thing, time after time? Or we’re tired and grumpy, and don’t feel like playing a game. Are there other things that can work?

The answer is a resounding Yes! We’ll look at five different ways that young children feel connected. These five ways can become five tools in your tool belt. If you try one tool and it’s not right for the job, you can try another, and another. When you read about these five ways, you will likely discover that you already use some, or even most of them. Perhaps there are one or two that are your fall-backs. But if these fall-backs haven’t been working as well as they used to, or they only work sometimes, it may be that your child would feel more engaged or connected using another category. And just like you’ll probably have one or two that feel the most natural to you, there are likely one or two that will feel the most engaging to your child. However, it’s possible that these two only overlap partially, or not at all! If you’re always making things fun, but your son is really longing for love and appreciation, he may reject your attempts at humor and imagination. If you tend to want to snuggle but your daughter squirms away when you try, it could be that she’s longing for some physical fun, or imagination. These five ways will give you new ideas to try, new tools to use.

And finally, it’s useful to have five different ways of connecting because sometimes a child knows exactly how he or she wishes to connect, but it’s not possible or practical in that moment: perhaps your child wants to breastfeed, but you’re working on weaning. Perhaps your child wants to wrestle, but you’ve thrown out your back. Perhaps your child is trying to engage you in a game of chase-and-tickle, but it’s bedtime. Instead of simply rebuffing your child and saying “no,” you can say “yes” to their desire for connection, using a different way. Let’s take a look at what these five ways are:

 

FIVE WAYS KIDS FEEL CONNECTED

To make it easy to remember the five ways in a hurry, I’ve made them into an acronym: When you want to connect with your child, don’t forget to SMILE. These five ways are Singing, Movement, Imagination, Love, and Exaggeration. Each one of these ways has been well documented by early childhood researchers, and most are easy enough to do off-the-cuff. All of them feel silly at first, but just like using any new skill, they get easier with practice.

 

Singing, Movement, Imagination, Love, Exaggeration

SINGING:  Children connect through songs and rhymes. Remember when Ashley and her mother left the house and walked to the car singing a little “let’s go” song? Well, it turns out that singing and rhymes reach children in special ways.

Songs can be rousing and fun (a get-up-and-go type song) or soothing and sweet (for going to bed, or snuggling together). Give it a try! It doesn’t matter whether you can sing in tune or not; it is still connecting. Sing songs you listen to on the radio, sing songs you remember from your childhood, take a really common song like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and add your own words about getting out of the bathtub, getting into the car, climbing into bed, etc.

Songs can instruct, let children know it’s time for a certain activity, and help transitions go smoothly. Silly songs are especially great anytime a child needs to wait for something. When I have multiple kids waiting for a turn to stir the batter when we’re baking muffins, I sing “All Around the Mulberry Bush” for each child, so that each knows exactly how long his turn is. When a child is waiting for me to finish washing a pan in the sink so that I can tie a cape around her neck, I’ll sing “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” and when it’s done, I’ll dry my hands and help her.

Don’t know any songs or looking to expand your repertoire? My favorite source are the book/cd combos of Naturally You Can Sing. The song are short and sung clearly, to be learned rather than listened to as a CD. My favorites are: Sing A Song with Baby for connecting (many of these have touching or movement components to them as well, which make them extra connecting) and This Is the Way We Wash-A-Day, which gives songs for just about every household task, as well as get-going songs, hair brushing songs, etc..

Sometimes when I encourage parents to sing to their kids, they try it and are mortified when their child says, “Stop singing!” Try weaving some other connecting activities below into your singing: exaggeration (sing in a silly voice, very fast or slow, soft or loud, etc.) and movement (swing them around while you sing, do hand motions to your song, etc.) are good ones to combine with singing.

Rhymes are also very connecting. Why do you think nursery rhymes have been around for so many centuries? The rhythm, the rhyming sounds, the silliness all speak to something deep in children. When you combine a rhyme with exaggeration (by saying it in a silly voice) or with movement (touching games, circle games), rhymes can be extra-connecting. Get a book of Mother Goose poems and choose one or two for specific circumstances: “To market, to market, to buy a fat pig,” for going from the car into the grocery store, or “Shoe a little horse, shoe a little mare” for getting shoes on.

The Research: Live singing to babies in neonatal intensive care units lowers their heart rates, helps them sleep better and gain more weight.[1] Research on music for people with autism and ADHD shows it to foster cooperation, promote body awareness and self-awareness, facilitate self-expression, and promote learning (source; quoted in Singing Neanderthal). In addition to helping kids feel connected, there may be some additional benefits for singing to your children: recent research suggests that the neural networks for language are built upon those used for music (Singing Neanderthals, p. 70), and so singing may lay the groundwork for later verbal abilities. (tell story of herding toddlers) (mention universal prosodies of infant directed speech?)

 

Singing, Movement, Imagination, Love, Exaggeration

MOVEMENT:  Children connect through movement and physical fun.Remember when Ashley’s mom chased Ashley around, then slung her over her shoulder? Physical fun is very connecting for young children. The vast majority of the time, giggles -and feelings of connection- ensue.

Research has shown for people of all ages that positive touch releases endorphins and is very connecting. For toddlers, positive touch means more than just a snuggle here and there. Increase your range of types of positive touch, and you will connect with your young child in new ways. Try BIG movement: Swing them around, hang them upside down, toss them in the air, jiggle them about. Try MEDIUM movement: Horsey-rides on your lap, throwing a blanket over their heads, or fun pokes or tickles.  Or try SMALL movement: hugs, soft strokes, or sweet touching games with rhymes like this one that I use for diaper changes:

All around the haystack goes the little mouse (circle your finger around their belly button)

One step, two step, into his little house! (“walk” your fingers up his belly for the step, then “run” them into an armpit or the crook of his neck)

 

Singing, Movement, Imagination, Love, Exaggeration

IMAGINATION:  Children connect through imagination. Remember the little bird that flew out of Ashley’s jacket sleeve? That was Ashley’s mom using imagination to connect. Perhaps your son doesn’t want to brush his teeth? Turn that toothbrush into a bunny that’s hopping around, looking for carrots to eat. Then it can ‘find’ carrots–in his mouth! Mmmm! Each tooth gets brushed as that bunny munches away.  Or perhaps the toothbrush looks for (and finds) each type of food that your child ate over the course of the day.

It can be hard to come up with imaginative scenarios when you’re tired, but just like any new skill, it gets easier with practice. Think of a few while you’re fresh to pull out later. My old standbys are bunnies, mice and airplanes. Airplanes are especially useful if it’s time to go somewhere, because you can make it fun and connecting while still actually moving toward your goal. But anytime you tell a story or use make-believe, you are connecting with your child through imagination.  Here are a couple of ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • For tidying: squirrels scurrying around to put nuts away for the winter; magpies collecting everything shiny; Elves coming while the Shoemaker is asleep (this one is great for older kids to scurry around and tidy while you cover your eyes)
  • For taking a bite of food with a spoon: a steam shovel at a construction project; kitty-cats sipping milk from their bowls; having tea with the Queen of England
  • Going somewhere specific: Hopping like a bunny  (I often sing “Here comes Rowan-Cottontail, Hopping down the bunny-trail, as he hops); rushing like a freight-train; creeping as quiet as a mouse (great for getting to get into bed, passing the baby’s room while she’s napping, etc.)

Storytelling (for slightly older kids):

  • “When I was a little girl/little boy…”,
  • People in far away places: tell a story about the Inuit Eskimos getting ready for a dog-sled trip as you get ready to go outside in the cold weather, etc.
  • For picky eaters, tell the story of how the item of food is grown, from seed to there in your bowl.

The Research: A study with four-year-olds showed that those told they were being factory guards were able to stand in one place more than three times as long as those given no imagery (ref needed).  A study on parents entering a child’s play helped ease transitions (ref needed)

 

Singing, Movement, Imagination, Love, Exaggeration

LOVE:  Children connect through love and appreciation. Finally, it doesn’t have to be all fun and games. This category is the one that many adults think of when they think of connecting with someone, although even here toddlers have some things that they like differently than adults do.

One way to connect is through verbal appreciation: one child who didn’t like getting her face wiped after a meal didn’t mind when her mother took her onto her lap, snuggled her, and used a warm, wet cloth to gently wipe her face, saying, “I love your cheek. And your chin. I love your other cheek, and your tiny button nose. I love your top lip, and your bottom lip, and I love all of you, so much,” finishing with a hug. What a difference from holding her head still while she swipes the face with a cloth! Face-wiping at the end of a meal turned from being an ordeal, to being one of the most special parts of the day. You don’t even need to use the words for this type of connecting; your attitude says it all. Breastfeeding and snuggles of any type are a wonderful mix of Touch and Love.

Another way to connect is to appreciate your child’s physical experience. A child doesn’t like having his hair washed? Slow down and ‘notice’ out loud all of the physical sensations he might be feeling: the tickly water, the cold breeze when his skin is wet, the sound, feel, smell of soap in his hair, the feeling of your fingers as you massage his scalp, the scary feeling as soap drips down on his face: don’t rush to fix it, just appreciate the sensation and calmly wipe it away. The uncomfortable feeling of leaning back into the water, then relaxing as you hold his head. When children know that we really ‘get it,’ they are able to trust and allow us to help them through discomfort. I use this a lot for diaper changes, sometimes for tooth brushing, and for dressing/undressing. (sound effects can help with this and are extra connecting)

Be cautious of labeling emotions with young children when they’re upset; this can sometimes feel judgmental rather than appreciative. Instead, take a moment to really feel compassion, and then decide what would help your child move through disappointment.

And finally, appreciation can be you and your child appreciating something beautiful together. I used to have a painting of a mama and baby above my changing table, and when I’d bring a child over, we’d spend a moment gazing at the painting together before I’d lay him down. You can appreciate a flower blossom, a candle flame; anything. I had one little boy who was staring at a pile of mulch. I came over to him and he looked up at me with shining eyes: “Those sticks are SOOOO BEAUTIFUL!”

 

Singing, Movement, Imagination, Love, Exaggeration

EXAGGERATION:  Children connect through exaggeration and humor. Remember when Ashley’s mom “lost” her over her shoulder, turning this way and that, saying, “Where did Ashley go?” Pretending that she didn’t know something obvious is extremely funny (and connecting) for young children.

We’re talking about toddler humor, here. What do toddlers find funny?

  • Exaggerate your voice: make it fast and squeaky, slow and deep, or have a funny accent. Think about the voices you hear in cartoons–the reason they’re done that way is because that’s funny to kids!
  • Exaggerate sounds:  Sound-effects of any kind are very funny and connecting.  Your son doesn’t want to wash his hands? Rub his hand in the water and make squeaking sound effects, a different one for each hand. Hilarious! He doesn’t like getting his bum wiped during a diaper change? Try making zooooping sounds that match your motions. Sound effects of almost any kind are funny and connecting to kids.  My own daughter doesn’t like the appreciative face-wiping that the girl in the “Love” section enjoyed; with Sophie, she enjoys exaggeration and sound effects for wiping hands and face: the washcloth will envelope a hand and vibrations (complete with buzzing sounds from me) wipe all of that food away.  For her mouth, the washcloth turns into a buzzing bumble bee that dips in for buzzing sips on her cheeks and lips.
  • Exaggerate effort: Shoes won’t go on? Try creaky sounds as you push, or exaggerated huffing and puffing like it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
  • Exaggerate knowledge (or lack of knowledge).  Pretending you don’t know whether a sock goes on a hand, an elbow or a foot is a pretty sure bet for giggles from the toddler crowd. And remember when the mom slung Ashley over her shoulder and walked to the coats saying, “Where’s Ashley? Where did she go?” Combining physical fun with humor was extra connecting.

Any time you use funny voices, sound effects, or pretend you don’t know something, those no’s are able to melt away as the two of you connect (of course, it also helps if you think what’s your doing is funny, too).

So, those are the five ways. When you want to connect with your child, don’t forget to SMILE.

How can you tell if your attempts are working? How can you tell when a child feels connected? You can tell because you see her eyes light up. Because she’s giggling. Because she says, “Again!” Or because she melts into you. You can tell because the ‘no’ disappears and the two of you are on the same team again.

Which types of connecting activities should you use? All of them, of course! Ashley’s mom used four out the five in the few brief moments it took to get ready to walk out the door.  Here’s a report from one mom in this class, who had a 5-month-old baby and a little boy who was almost 3:

I used imagery and singing tonight while tidying up and making dinner and it was amazing to see how Xander responded. I initially asked him to please close the door and he ignored me so then I said the big gust of wind was needed to whoosh the door closed and he acted upon it happily. I then asked him to bring the two little wet birds (his socks) to the fireplace so they could dry out and he did this with joy. While preparing dinner (and simultaneously wearing my 5-month old trying to wind him down for bed), I sang what I was doing and gave Xander small tasks, putting dill in a bowl and whisking the sauce, which both made him feel involved and also occupied him so he wasn’t loud and disturbing the baby. What made me laugh out loud was when he climbed into his highchair and sang for his daddy to buckle him in. How nice to hear that instead of a demand! This little experience shows me how powerful modeling is.

So try them all, and see how your child responds. You may discover new ways of connecting that deepen your relationship and really change the dynamics between the two of you. When you do try these ways of connecting, and when you succeed, chances are you’ll start hearing the phrase, “Again!” When this happens, say Yes! You might say yes and do it again right away, you might say yes and do something slightly different that’s still connecting and fun, or you might say yes and do it again the next time you’re doing that particular activity together. It can be especially sweet to have certain connecting activities that always happen at the same time of day. If you always swoop your child up and swing her around before you put her in her high chair, and she loves it every time, then soon it goes from being a connecting activity to being a ritual. Rituals are extra-connecting because they are not only enjoyable in the moment, but they carry the weight of all past connections with them. Rituals can help make every day more enjoyable and help carry you through the days that are hard, because they give you established times to connect, sprinkled throughout the day. Each ritual might last a week, a month, or several years, and then perhaps it might stop working, because one or the other of you no longer feels connected through the activity. In that case, go back to the list once again. Find a new way to connect. If you hear “Again!” then perhaps you’ll have a new ritual in the making.

So the next time you tell your child that it’s time to do something, and she says, “No,” remember what this really means: “Our relationship is important to me, mom. Let’s take a moment to connect first, and then I’ll be happy to work with you.”

 

 

 

[1] Loewy, J., Stewart, K., Dassler, A. M., Telsey, A., & Homel, P. (2013). The effects of music therapy on vital signs, feeding, and sleep in premature infants. Pediatrics, 131(5), 902-918.

Comments

  1. P.S. If you’re looking for more ideas for physical fun, Horsey Rides are usually a big hit! I made a video of some of my horsey ride favorites for you guys: https://www.joyfultoddlers.com/video-horsey-rides/

  2. Ellie Bowers says:

    Wow! Faith.. this makes so much sense! Some of this I already do, but turning her simple NO into yes is going to be my mission. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Michelle Allport says:

    This reading is such great timing ! My 3 year old daughter says no often and thinking of it as a cry for ‘connection’ changes everything. Really grateful for the SMILE tool set–thanks so much!

  4. Barbara Jimenez says:

    I love that way of thinking about the NO. The funny thing is I can do it wonderfully with my students (six 2-4 yr olds) but when my children (daughter 11 & son 8) say NO it totally triggers me into a power struggle. I have been reading books (Non-Violent Communication, The Conscious Parent & Why Discipline Doesn’t Work) and working on myself but it is so hard. Anyone have any tools on how to turn a NO into Yes with connecting for older children? Thank you for a great article!

    • One of my favorite books for connecting with older kids is “Parenting Without Power Struggles” by Susan Stiffleman. I also like “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids,” by Dr. Laura Markham.

  5. An addition: if your child is being rough (with you, with the baby, etc.) but laughing while he’s doing it, chances are good that he’s trying to ask for physical fun (the “M” in SMILE). Respond with a YES to the need, even while you correct the WAY he’s asking for it: “It looks like you want to rough-house! The baby’s too little…come over here and ask ME to rough-house!”

  6. Celeste Woody says:

    This is wonderful. I feel like this reading alone is worth its weight in gold! Though you might have answered my questions in your last paragraph (I wrote my question as I was reading) , do you have any more thoughts as too what ages you find the SMILE technique effectiveness might begin to dwindle, or should we as parents begin to expect them to go ahead and get dressed without a “no” followed by our attempt to playfully move them toward progress? I know the connection piece longing is always there. My almost 5.5 year old still responds to these techniques, especially to be chased when dressing occasionally, though I am just wondering if he says no just to be chased because he enjoys that , and at what point he is old enough that I should just go ahead and expect him to put on his jacket, and save chasing for a better time?

    • Celeste, the easiest way is to say, “Yes! We can play chase AFTER you get your clothes on.” Then make getting dressed fun/connecting in another way to help him move through the minor disappointment of having to wait for the chasing game: “Quick-quick-quick, little bunny! Hop into those bunny pants!” Then once he’s dressed, play chase and have fun with it before transitioning to breakfast or the next thing. Does that seem like it could work?

  7. Celeste Woody says:

    Also, wondering about whether you continue to ask questions like, “please put on your jacket” for those times when they comply and for the time in their development when they will be expected to follow this kind of command, or do you stop asking questions like this, and just tell them, “now we are going to put on our jacket ,” and start the process and incorporate SMILE as needed, or the parts that have become routine for this activity. Also, there are times when you do need quick obedience, in a parking lot for example when you need them to hold hands, or stick right by you, or on a sidewalk ect. If they are used to a little song and dance by mom or dad when they say no, what are the techniques for helping them to know there are situations where now means now? I know at this age results are not consistent, so making sure the children are attached to you before going into a parking lot ect is the first step, but maybe you can speak to my thoughts.

    • OK, there are several questions there! Here are some quick answers:

      Do you need to do it for everything, or can you try just asking and then see if you need the SMILE techniques?: It’s fine to ask a child to do something and see whether they need your help or not. But if you start getting a “No” for a certain activity on a semi-regular basis, then weave the connecting into your request/announcement. Remember, you want to make saying “yes” to you feel both natural and inevitable, until it’s a habit.

      What about when you need quick obedience, esp. in safety situations?: I will let children know when something is important, but I’ll also set myself up for getting a “yes” from them at the same time, by weaving some connection into my announcement. “We’re about to walk through the parking lot and it’s important that you stick right by me. I want you to be like a tree frog that’s sticking close to its tree branch while it waves in the wind. Do you understand?” Then if I think it might be tricky for him to stick close to me I might sing a little song, or play a game, or talk about tree frogs while we walk. If he strays away, I’ll lose my fun immediately: “Oh no, you need to stick RIGHT by me.” Then when he’s back doing what I’ve asked again, the fun/connection re-commences.

  8. Here’s a question from a previous class, about boundaries & safety issues:

    Yesterday my 2yr 9mo old son was trying to make his way out to the gate for the 3rd time that day. We live on a busy street and one big rule of the household is that he can only go to the gate if he is with an adult). Instead of shouting “No!” to him (which I had done earlier that day and to which he responded with an even bigger “NO!”), I made my way out after him with my “Little Bunny” fingers and called out to him that Little Bunny had a secret to tell him. He thought about it for a second and then came back to me to hear. When he got close, Little Bunny told him that she wanted to play chase. He lit up and started running, straight back to the house! Didn’t necessarily send the message home that he’s not allowed to go out to the gate alone, but it did get him back inside where I needed him to be at the moment. I would love to be able to find positive ways to address these important safety topics in a way that he can understand and really internalize. (And of course, figuring out how to best childproof in the meantime!)

    Me: This idea of getting children to “really understand” rules is a bit of a tough one. We adults “really understand” rules through our thoughts, but young children “really understand” rules and expectations more through their bodies, and through habit (of how things always are). You just moved to your new house, so you are establishing new habits around that gate. In your case, you might establish a rule (using positive language): “You must have a grown-up with you EVERY time you go to the gate.” So your bunny might have reminded him of the rule, first: “It’s important to have a grown-up with you EVERY time you go to the gate,” and THEN your bunny could invite him to race back to the house.

    You might also have a second Rule: “If you forget to have a grown up with you, then we’ll have to go inside until you can remember.” Then if he runs to the gate, you remind him: “You forgot. It looks like we’ll need to go inside for a bit, until you can remember again.” You don’t have to be angry, just matter-of-fact. It’s reality. Then before you take him back out again, you might say, “Can you remember to stay by the house?” “Yes” “OK, then we can try again.” If he forgets again, you might go inside and then stay in a little longer: “No, you were having trouble remembering. We’ll stay inside a bit longer until I’m sure you’ll be able to remember to stay by the house.”

  9. Brittany Longhurst says:

    This all seems so obvious it kind of makes me feel like a dummy for it not coming to me naturally before… Haha. Thanks so much, Miss Faith. <3

  10. What about when you’re feeling so tired that you just can’t think of anything? What can you do? Here are some ideas:

    1) Try using Movement & touch (physical fun). That takes more physical energy but less mental energy.

    2) For older kids, get them to help you. If you ask them to do something and they say No, ask them, “Hmm…how could we make this more fun?” They will need some guidance the first few times so that they get a picture of what you mean, but after you get them on the right track they are often WAY more creative than we are.

    3) Sometime when you have a few moments to yourself (more or less), make a list of challenging times of the day, and then brainstorm about ways that you could make them enjoyable and connecting. It’s way easier to come up with ideas when you’re not in the thick of things.

    And of course, some days you’re just so exhausted that you really have no reserves. I suffer from migraines, so I have some experience with that. In those cases, I have a “Take Care of Miss Faith Day.” You can read about it here:
    https://www.joyfultoddlers.com/2011/06/when-im-low-energy/

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