“Russell want almond moo-moo!” shouts my increasingly verbose toddler.
“But we don’t have any almond milk… how about some regular moo-moo?”
“Want almond moo-moo!” he shouts again, his mouth turning into a pout. Tears are forming.
I try to hand him a cup of regular milk anyway.
“No!” He swings his arms wildly and knocks the cup on the floor, spilling it.
I push his chair away from the table and feel the anger bubble up. “Not OK,” I mutter with a big scowl. “No moo-moo for Russell.”
Before having a toddler, I observed plenty of disputes between parents and children at the park. I wanted to be one of those mythical parents who manage to never say no — I would reason with them, “work with them” to get to a consensus about leaving the park (or whatever it is). The reality is, of course, that it’s pretty hard to do.
I still try to avoid saying “no,” and when I do, I try to explain my reasoning. We are leaving the park because mummy is needing some rest. Or, mummy doesn’t want Russell to chuck food on the floor because we don’t want to be wasteful (I still have to figure out how to say “needing to not waste” in the positive — maybe “needing to conserve”?). Sometimes it works. Usually a distraction or diversion is used in conjunction. (“Look! A butterfly!” actually works wonders.)
I also try to address his need and feelings. For example: “I hear you’re needing to play and you are feeling disappointed that we are leaving the park. Can we play with rocket noodles while mummy has some lunch?” (Rocket noodles are noodles that turn into rocket ships which then fly into Russell’s mouth.) Soon he would be able to counter with his own suggestions and negotiate with me. I overheard a mother and daughter having a similar exchange where the young girl came up with the solution — going to a restaurant with a play area so mummy and little brother could have food and rest while she continues to play.
Sometimes, though, I have to intervene with force.
At not quite two years, R has yet to fully develop his reasoning capabilities. He sees it and we try to practise it, but the reality is that we’ll likely have a few more years of unilateral noes from us for really dangerous and/or undesirable things, such as hitting, biting, and running into the dog with his truck. “Please don’t, it hurts” works most of the time but he does like to test our boundaries. The tricky part is determining whether I’m taking away the truck to protect gir or to punish Russell. It started off being the former, but now it’s probably both.
The idealistic parent in me is against extrinsic punishments. But punishment isn’t all bad, as long as it fits the crime and the reasoning is explained as best I can to a semi-reasonable being. So far, “I have to protect gir because this hurts him and he can’t protect himself,” is the best I can do.
Right after he spilled the milk, Russell fussed and fussed about being let off the high chair. (“All done, down?”) I took my time to explain that I was upset about the spilt milk — “it’s wasteful and mummy wants to be not wasteful, and mummy needs cleanliness so she is mopping up the milk” — before I let him down. I wanted badly to just push him away and keep him trapped in the high chair. I wanted to hear him cry over the spilt milk so he is just as upset as me. But to ignore the otherwise reasonable request felt like I would be punishing him unjustly.
The other day, he spilled apple juice by accident and said, “it’s wasteful, bye-bye apple juice.” I think we’re on the right track.