It’s an exciting time for all parents: our baby is learning to talk! Conan’s vocabulary has been steadily building for a few months. He’s not one of those super-verbal babies (his 10 month old cousin already has a larger vocabulary!) but he understands most of what is said to him, can follow simple instructions, and now regularly uses these words himself:
Yeah * Wow * Hi * Uh-Oh * Mama * Papa * Baby * Ball * Birr (Bird) * Bobbol (Bottle) * Boon (Balloon) * Kee (Kitty) * Dok (Dog and/or cow) * Hot (which also means cold) * Dat (That, usually accompanied by pointing). He also signs more, bye-bye, and milk to round out his communication. You can say a lot with 15 words and 3 signs, plus pointing and grunting!
Still, there’s one glaring omission from this list of words. Do you see what is missing?
No? Yeah, that’s right: “No.”
At nearly 18 months old Conan does not say no. He never has. Sure, sometimes he refuses. He pushes things away, shakes his head, and sometimes even cries and stomps his feet. But he has never once even used a “nnnn” sound to express his refusal. I’m sure that eventually, like most toddlers, he will become enamored with “no”. But so far, he’s very much a “yes” boy. He’ll happily sing Yeah-Yeah-Yeah to himself while he plays, and if you ask him a question he’ll almost always answer with an enthusiastic “Yeah!” Of course, whether he means it or not is another story, as you’ll find out when you actually make him that second piece of toast that he seemed so excited about.
I’m not sure why he doesn’t say “no,” but I have a couple of theories. For one thing, we’ve tried to make Conan’s environment safe for him to explore, so we don’t have to constantly tell him no. Most everything in the house that he can access is ok for him to get into. We didn’t do this because we’re extra specially enlightened parents, we did it because we are lazy and it’s much easier, in the long run, to spend a few afternoons child-proofing than it is to constantly watch out for him getting into things he’s not supposed to get into–because he WILL get into everything he can.
Mostly though, I think it comes from focusing on telling him what I want him to do, rather than what I don’t want him to do. So instead of telling him “Don’t stand on the chair,” I tell him “Please sit down on your bottom.” Instead of “No coloring on the table” I tell him “Crayons color on the paper.” “Pet the kitty on the back” is more effective than “Don’t poke the kitty’s eyes.” It was hard at first to change my thinking and focus on the outcome I wanted, but I’ve gotten better at it over the months. Now it’s almost automatic for me to give Conan positive instructions instead of prohibitions.
I’m certainly not perfect at always giving him positive instructions, and it’s not like he’s never been told NO. But I do make an effort. I started doing it because I noticed that, for instance, if I said “don’t throw your food,” it was as if he heard only “…throw your food.” The negative just didn’t seem to register. Even at a very young age (around 9 months or so) he’d do exactly what I just told him not to do. I found pretty quickly that if I rephrased my requests into the positive it had a much more satisfactory effect.
Now I’m starting to wonder if it works on grown-ups too? I’m going to give it a try. The whole world could use more positive instructions and fewer prohibitions, I bet. It’d be pretty nice if someday No wasn’t a primary word in all of our vocabularies.