By Bailey Kent, Director of The Children's Workshop in Bourne, and mom to Louis, age 18 months
It never ceases to astound me how easily Louis picks up some skills, like saying “no.” Within two months of learning the word he has figured out the best way to apply it – when it is bath time, when it is bed time, when it is time to put his shoes on. Must be a difference between his receptive language skills (what he hears and understands) and his expressive language skills (what he says) that allows him to tell me “No!” fifty times a day but still continue to climb the windowsill, or pull the dog’s tail, after I say “No!”
See the problem for me is his cute little face, his chubby smiling cheeks, and the laughter in his eyes as he does something he knows is wrong – I can’t keep a straight face. And saying “no” while laughing is just like saying – “good job!” So the other day when my husband found me in the bathroom practicing a stern face in the mirror while saying “no” he thought I had lost my mind, but little did he know I was just running my own parenting self-help class. But even after twenty minutes of practice I still didn’t have it in me. Luckily, I’ve found that a more effective way of saying “no” is to tell Louis what I would rather him do, which I can do with a smile on my face. So I started to say “Louis your feet go on the floor!” or “Louis use gentle hands on the dog” or “Louis your food goes in your mouth!” His teachers call this “positive praise” or “positive reinforcement” – giving him attention (what he desires) for the behaviors we want to see (what I desire). The system is close to perfect, since the little monster and I both get what we want. Now he is safe, we’re both smiling, and my husband no longer catches me talking to myself: win-win-win!