Learning to say ‘NO’


I’ve always had an awkward relationship with the word no. I detest it, avoid it, ignore it and fear it in equal measures. My instinct is always to explore every possible avenue that may lead to a resounding yes before contemplating uttering the ‘n’ word. And when I’m forced to admit defeat, I usually only manage to mumble the word apologetically.  This is not the way to say no to a baby I’m learning.

Now a mummy to a spirited little girl, my lifelong struggle with saying no has deepened. It’s no longer simply about my lack of assertiveness or people pleasing instincts. Not being able to say no has suddenly got serious. With a curious, mischievous and boundary seeking mini-Mr J to coerce onto the straight and narrow, it’s a word I can no longer afford to squeak remorsefully as a last resort. I need to be able to say it with ‘stop right there and think carefully about what you’re doing little madam’ authority at the drop of a hat.

I want Baby J to share my positive predisposition for saying ‘yes’ but it’s equally important that she understands no. She needs to know that if she hears the word as she’s hurtling towards a fire/lake/escaped lion at the zoo, that she should stop without question and take caution. Valuing no would also be equally beneficial in less hazardous scenarios, such as when she decides to happily empty her food bowl slowly onto the floor in our favourite restaurant.

Mr J has a great ‘no’ voice – strong, bold and booming. Mine is more of a half-hearted whimper. So in the interests of not falling into good cop and bad cop roles, I’ve accepted I need to get better at saying no. As my voice just doesn’t play ball when it comes to being authoritative, I’ve been looking for other tricks to compensate for my vocal deficiency.

  • I’m mastering ‘the look’. My mum definitely had it (shudder). I’m working on developing that same stern frown that worked a treat on me in the hope that it gives my feeble no some extra oomph.
  • Stop it right now body language. To counteract the smiles, claps, hugs, kisses and tickles Baby J provokes and receives 99% of the time, I’m working on saying no in a very still and detached way. Hopefully Baby J will see my prickly body language as a cue to stop whatever mischief making she’s up to.
  • No is not the only word. If Baby J ignores my ‘no’ when she’s starting a food fight, it’s not the end of the world. I can cope with a little embarrassment and food splattered on my forehead (been there done that on a night out and survived to tell the tale). But if it’s a no to stop her running into a busy road, I need more than one weak word in my armoury. So I’m enlisting the support of other stern commands. Stop! Wait! Put it down! Hopefully when used with with my soon to be well-rehearsed (but hopefully only occasionally used in earnest) no, they’ll get the message across.

Discipline is not something I’m going to be a natural at I fear. To make this harder still, accepting no clearly isn’t something Baby J is easily convinced by. Yes, our little lady is very quick to veto a negative command with a cheeky smile or by nonchalantly avoiding eye-contact with us altogether until we give up and resume playtime. In Baby J world,  no seems to register as “I’ll just try doing that one more time”. We’ve got a long journey ahead of us I fear.


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