Friday, March 10, 2006

Providing a Toddler with the Power to Say No

By Christina VanGinkel

My grandson, who is now 32 months old, has developed the need to be able to tell other children that he does not want to do something, or more accurately, that he wants them to stop whatever it is they are trying to do to him. For example, the other evening, while stopping at a friend's house, the young daughter of my daughter's friend, who is about four months younger than my grandson, wanted to take my grandson's jacket off, he apparently did not want her to do that. His response was to push her away. This was not acceptable behavior for the simple reason that when someone pushes someone else, there is always the risk that one of them might end up hurt, the one being pushed, or even the one doing the pushing. That very same day, he was at my house in the morning, when a neighbor of mine stopped by with her four-year-old daughter. The kids were playing, and all of a sudden, the little girls started to cry. When asked what had happened, she said she was holding his feet on the floor and he kicked her. Huh? When asked to explain further, as I could not for the life of me imagine why she would be holding his feet down in the first place, she said she was showing him what they do in her dance class, and when he did not want her to hold down his foot, she still wanted to. He pulled away his foot and kicked her!

What was most surprising about the whole situation for my daughter I believe is that, he is not aggressive by nature, if anything, he shies away from other children until he knows them well. Therefore, when he handled it by giving the little girl a push, my daughter was taken aback. When I also went on to tell her that he had kicked the neighbor's daughter that very morning (I honestly had not thought it was a big deal, but when she was concerned about the pushing incident, I decided to tell her about it). Instead of making more of the whole scenario at her friend's house than what was needed, she had handled it by having him apologize at the time, and telling him, he was not allowed to do that again, and gave him an brief explanation of why not. When she arrived back home, she talked to her husband about what had happened, had called me in the meantime, when she had then had that morning's incident relayed to her.

Instead of just letting the two instances go, in the hopes that it would not happen again, they decided to talk to him about what he could do when somebody is obviously invading his space and doing something that he deems unacceptable. Together, they came up with the idea that he could put his hand up (much like a crossing guard) and say loudly 'Stop'. At the least, it would bring the attention of the supervising adult, so they could help settle the issue, without anymore pushing or kicking. They also talked to him about he would feel if someone pushed, or kicked him. He readily agreed that he would not like it, but he also said he did not like it when he could not get up when the one little girl was holding down his feet, and surprisingly, they found out that he did not like the other one helping him off with his jacket because if it needed taking off, he was a big enough boy to do it his self.

In the end, I am proud of how my daughter handled the current situation. By letting him know that, the behavior he exhibited was not acceptable, but at the same time providing him with at least some rudimentary alternatives, they were acknowledging that they understood his frustrations. Whether he will push or kick another child again, we do not know, but at least the incidences were not just brushed aside, and no attempt to deal with them would have been worse than handling it as well as they did. By providing him with the option to say 'no', they have empowered him verbally, and words can and often are much more powerful than any action.

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