“Respect the no”: 3 reasons to listen when kids say no

"Respect the no": 3 reasons to listen when kids say no
The other day, my toddler was eating strawberries and yogurt for breakfast when, with still a few bites left, he said he wanted to get down. “Here’s another bite,” my husband offered, scooping up the remaining yogurt. Thankfully our toddler didn’t hear him because I whispered to my husband, “Don’t offer him more yogurt—he already said ‘no’.”

My toddler loves to eat, so sometimes we’re incredulous to the times when he doesn’t want to finish his meal. With that in mind, it’s easy for us to dismiss him when he actually says no to food. I’m glad I caught it with the yogurt, but I’m willing to bet we had made the same mistake a few times in the past. I wondered if maybe he doesn’t tell us he’s done because we don’t always listen to him when he does.

In addition to mealtimes, below are a few more examples of when we’re likely to disregard his no’s:

  • Tickling him. It’s so easy to tickle kids—they’re so darn cute, and they’re laughing, right? But tickling can eventually get too much, and being the little people they are, kids can often feel helpless in defending themselves. I try to be mindful of not tickling my toddler when he says no, even amidst laughter.
  • Asking him incessant questions. I doubt any parent actually annoys their kids on purpose, but we often have to pay attention to when they’ve had enough. It could be something as innocent as asking for a hug or suggesting to read a book several times when he already said no.
  • During transitions. Sometimes transitions have to happen—if we have to leave the house by 8:20, we have to leave by 8:20. But other transitions could be a bit more flexible so that if I suggest going to the park and he has already said no, I should just leave it at that and recommend the outing at a later time.

And it’s this last point that this thought began formulating in my mind. SSBE reader An Honest Mom coined the term “respect the no” in a recent comment where she wrote:

Now, the thing that I parrot all day long is, “respect the ‘no.’ ” If J wants someone else’s toy, I encourage him to ask “Can I have that please?” and then he has to respect the yes or the no. The harder part for me, for whatever reason, is defending J’s need to say no sometimes. Chalk it up to wanting to be liked, maybe. So it feels like therapy everytime I ask another kid to respect J’s “No.” Coincidentally, I’m learning to respect the “no” too.

After encouraging my toddler to tell us when he’s done eating only to dismiss him once he does provides little incentive for him to do so again. And while it’s easy to ignore them, it’s imperative that parents listen to kids when they say no because doing so:

1. Teaches kids that they have boundaries.
Especially when it comes to tickling or annoying them, we have to stop when they ask us to stop. When we don’t, we invade their personal space and send the wrong message that adults can simply tickle or annoy the heck out of them with little regard to their feelings.

2. Lets them know that they have a voice.
When we stop because they asked us to, we’re telling them that they’re important and that their words are taken into consideration. While parents have authority, kids can also learn that they have a voice, and that parents and adults aren’t always right.

3. Encourages them to stand up for what’s important to them.
Kids who are encouraged to say “no” when they’re playing with a toy will likely learn how to stand up for what’s important to them. Today it may be a toy, tomorrow it can be their personal values, a job promotion they deserve, or a passion they want to pursue.

We’ve since been more mindful of when our toddler says no. He enjoys tickling and rough housing, but after a while when he’s had enough and wants to stop, we listen and “respect the no.”

How do you handle it when your kids say ‘no’?

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Weekend links and Festival of Books

Weekend links and Festival of Books
Imagine joining thousands of other book-lovers convening at a local university, all lining up to meet their favorite authors, listening to readings or purchasing books from small and large sellers alike. That’s what one morning looked like a few weeks ago as we attended The LA Times Festival of Books at USC. We watched a band playing children’s songs (I can’t get away from them!) and also bought a new book called Blue Goose. And while my toddler preferred to play lets-find-every-fountain-there-is-on-this-campus, this sort of event suits him quite well considering that he is one voracious reader.

This is one hobby that I hope my toddler will continue throughout his life, considering all the benefits I’ve already seen that reading has had on him:

  • He learns about things he otherwise hasn’t seen in person yet, whether it’s the seasons of the year (we don’t exactly have a “winter” here in Southern California) or the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly.
  • Books provide entertainment. He can easily sit by the bookcase for over an hour flipping through books.
  • Books expose him to new words. How often have you told someone, “And then I exclaimed…“? We don’t exactly go around saying words like “exclaimed” or “shuddered,” but because we read them in books, he has a storage of words that he probably wouldn’t learn just by listening to conversations.
  • He is starting to learn how to read. This may be a bit premature to say, but I think my toddler is starting to get the idea of reading. He knows that “N-O” spells “no,” so imagine my surprise when he saw the letters “T-O” and he said, “That spells ‘toe’!” Okay, so it’s not exactly “toe,” it’s really “to,” but I like that he put two-and-two together and ventured that “to” sounds like “no,” just with a T. And out of the blue, he said “‘Teeth’ and ‘tail’ start with ‘T’.” So cool!

In the past, I had tossed a few books because they were ratty, torn, and so out of shape. Now I mend them instead because I realize that they’re simply often-used, well-loved books by a little guy who can’t get enough of them.

For more information on how to encourage reading in kids, below are a few links and resources:

What benefits of reading have you seen in your kids? How do you encourage your kids to read?

p.s. If you liked what you read, you can subscribe and receive free full-text posts from Sleeping Should Be Easy in your email inbox. Or, tell us what you think about this post on Facebook and Twitter.

My love/hate relationship with Susie Tallman and children’s songs

My love/hate relationship with Susie Tallman and children's songs-ipod
Several months ago, my toddler and I stopped by the library and sat in the children’s area. Another mom was already there, playing with her little girl when suddenly I heard the mom sing under her breath, “Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was heeee…” Old King Cole is a popular children’s song, but this woman sang it in the same eerily slow and scary tune as the one that had been playing in my head. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and say, “Susie Tallman is in your head, too!”

According to my iTunes, we have 7.7 hours of children’s songs we’ve somehow amassed. And we hear them—all the time, so much so that I now know the lyrics to almost every single one of those songs. I’ve learned that some words are real (“What the heck is a ‘kookaburra’?” I asked my husband), while others—’tisket’ nor ‘tasket’—are technically not. I can sing the longest name (“John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”) and sing a tongue twister in four different speeds (“Skidamarink kadink kadink skidamarink kidoo”). And some of the songs just make me blush, like the one where a grandma sings “The Owl and Pussycat” and mentions… oh, about five hundred times how beautiful the *ahem* is.

I am mired in a web of children’s songs, all on constant loop, shuffling through our home and our cars. Hundreds of these songs have made their way into my subconscious as I sing or hum about ants marching ten by ten, how easy it is to count by tens, or why ten little monkeys were jumping on the bed.

Still, my toddler seems to enjoy these songs. He went through a phase where the song hasn’t even started yet and he was already asking, “What’s this song?” Or he would be able to identify the songs on just two seconds into it. The best part is hearing him sing the lyrics to songs I never even knew he paid attention to (unfortunately when he’s supposed to be napping). He has even convinced me to make a fool of myself and dance to “Six Little Ducks,” flapping my arms on each “quack” while he laughs hysterically at his crazy mom.

I’ve since stopped playing children’s songs exclusively, for the sake of my sanity and so that my toddler can hear other styles too. For instance, he likes songs from the Beatles, Chuck Berry, James Brown and Eddie Cochran (we figured he’d like a few songs about yellow submarines and jellybeans). We also play classical music since it sounds beautiful—and has no tongue twisters.

That said, I don’t think we’ll be giving up “The Suze,” as my husband and I affectionately call Susie Tallman and all our hundreds of other children’s songs. My toddler still enjoys listening to them, and sadly, I think I secretly like them too. That may be the reason why I will gladly dance a hip hop number to Susie Tallman’s “Buffalo Gals,” to the embarrassment of my husband and toddler.

Do you listen to children’s songs in your house?

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Why forcing kids to say sorry may not be a good idea

Why forcing kids to say sorry may not be a good idea
The other day my toddler wasn’t in the best of moods. It was one of those, “Let me complain about the littlest things” kind of days. He and his dad were rough housing when LO hit his dad with a plastic toy. Right away the air changed from giddiness to tension, and LO was in no mood to be schooled.

Still, I knelt down to my toddler’s eye level and sternly said, “We don’t hit other people.” Okay, so far so good. “Daddy got really sad and hurt when you hit him,” I continued. Then I told him, “Say ‘I’m sorry’.”

“I’m sorry,” my toddler replied in between tears. I doubt he even knew what ‘sorry’ was, because clearly he wasn’t—a few minutes later he runs after his dad and smacks him again with his hand. Insert a few more parenting mishaps here and a tad more toddler crying there, and you get the idea of how the rest of the evening went.

When the day finally ended, my husband and I talked about what happened and what we could have done instead. We agreed that forcing him to say “I’m sorry” may not have been the best tactic. Yet that phrase is often forced on many kids and even touted as good manners. After all, when you hurt someone, you express your grief at having done so by saying sorry.

Except saying sorry only works when you mean it. And when you know what it even means.

Teaching manners is often a reason why parents want their kids to say sorry. I’m trying to raise a polite boy; the kind who respects others, asks for things politely, and yes, apologizes when he does wrong. I also probably felt compelled to tell my toddler to say sorry because of the weight of his crime. Playing with the blinds or flinging food on the floor don’t warrant stern discipline; hitting does. In my need to match the wrongdoing with the appropriate consequence, I pulled out the “Say you’re sorry” card.

But just as kids shouldn’t be forced to share, I realize that neither should they be forced to say sorry. A true apology lies in the child’s own initiative, or at the least, his understanding of the hurt the other person might feel. Telling kids to say sorry before they feel remorseful makes them say things that aren’t the truth for them, forcing them to admit a feeling they don’t agree with or comprehend.

Telling to kids to say sorry might also make them feel ashamed and confused about their feelings. Already ridden with guilt, or at least an awareness that they did something wrong, kids may feel like they’ve lost a bit of support when forced to apologize.

And forcing an apology slaps an immediate resolution to the conflict without delving further into why he got frustrated in the first place, or what he could have done instead. The more he’s able to identify what triggers him to misbehave (was he upset? feeling ignored? tired?), the more he can find other alternatives to hitting (e.g. saying “I’m mad!”).

While kids shouldn’t always be forced to say sorry, they shouldn’t be let off the hook, either. I definitely needed to lay down the rules, but I should have waited until he calmed down before even talking about or trying to resolve the incident. Forget about trying to say anything logical to kids while they’re crying or hysterical—they won’t learn anything and they’re probably not even listening. Once he calmed down, I could try to talk about why he misbehaved: “You seemed upset when you hit your dad…” It’s that empathy again. Since my kid is only two-years-old, this will be a lot of filling in and guessing most of the time, but even doing this exercise will provide the vocabulary he’ll need for when he can be more verbal about his feelings.

Next, I could talk about what he can do instead. Again, since he’s on the younger side, I can help him fill in the blank: “Maybe when you’re upset, you can say ‘I’m mad’.” And finally, I could help him come up with a solution on how to make it up to the other person: “What can you do to make Daddy feel better? What if you gave him a hug, or told him you’re sorry?” At this point, after he’s calmed down and has realized he hurt someone, can we then encourage him to say I’m sorry.

This is still something I’m working on—just a few days ago I caught myself telling him to say sorry again right away without really trying to figure out the underlying issue. And there are times when telling your kids to say sorry is appropriate; if he accidentally steps on someone’s toes or does anything unintentionally, he should say “I’m sorry,” just as we say “excuse me” if we bumped into someone or “please” when we ask for something. But for more intentional acts, forcing kids to say sorry when they’re not ready may only make them feel isolated and ashamed, doesn’t provide an opportunity to learn other alternatives to express frustration, and denies kids the chance to express remorse all on their own.

How do you handle apologies when your kid has done something wrong? Do you find that forcing apologies has helped or hindered the situation?

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Three tips for avoiding toddler food battles

“Thank you,” my toddler said, handing me his empty plate. “Want to get down and play.”

“Wow,” I thought to myself. “He didn’t ask for more food. It worked!”

My toddler loves eating, so much so that for the past several months, he asks for more food even after we’ve given him a gargantuan portion size. Couple this with his crying debacles when we take him down from the high chair, eating time had become a war zone and food battles a common occurrence. I realized that unless I want him to be a champion buffet eater, a food hoarder or a diet freak, we needed to change things fast. Fortunately we did, using these three tips:

Tip #1: Let him eat unassisted
In the past, my husband and I would pierce or scoop our toddler’s food before handing him the utensil. Or, we would tear a slice of bread into bite-size pieces and toss it in front of him at regular intervals. If you’re starting to think that this is a wee bit like bird feeding, sadly you’re not alone. But we defended ourselves because handing (or tossing) him his food was easier, cleaner, and enabled us to monitor the pace he was eating. Considering that he would eat so fast and therefore ask for more, we didn’t see an easy way out.

But because we were deciding when he would have his next bite, or what food he wants to try next, or whether or not he should even have a bite at all, my toddler became a passive eater, eating at our discretion, not his. I started to think that perhaps part of the reason my toddler acts up around mealtimes is because he’s yet again under our control over something as basic and essential as eating.

We’ve changed things up: now he scoops his own risotto, pierces his own pineapple and grabs the pancakes with his own hands. I’ve had to keep my grimaces to myself whenever he’d splat yet another spoonful of spinach soup all over his sleeve or inadvertently dust breadcrumbs on the floor, but at least he seems happy being an equal participant at the dinner table.

Tip #2: Present all the food at once
Sometimes my husband and I swear we’re geniuses only to be schooled once again by our two-year-old. For instance, we knew how much LO loves fruit, and that given the choice between fruit and a main meal, he will likely gobble up the fruit before even laying eyes on the main meal.

“Let’s bring out the main meal first,” we conspired. “He’ll think that that’s all he’s eating, and will finish the whole thing. Then when he’s done, we can bring out his fruit. Mwahahahaha.”

And it seemed to work: my toddler finished the chicken and rice completely before asking for more. “Here’s your fruit!” we’d proclaim, smugly thinking that we had just tricked him into eating his main meal first. Then we got not-so-smug when he asked for more after he finished the fruit. And after he finished the veggies. And after he finished the bread. Until eventually he just tricked us into giving him way more food than we had intended or wanted. Our kitchen was starting to look like a seven-course restaurant, with mom and dad bringing out meals one right the other. He probably thought he had the whole kitchen at his disposal, and without a clear amount of food in front of him, he just kept asking for more.

So now I take the opposite approach. Recently, after sitting him down at the table, I gave him everything that we wanted him to eat all at once: salmon patties, a slice of bread and a bowl of blueberries. Not surprisingly, he turned to the blueberries first and grabbed a few. “Great,” I thought dejectedly. “He’s just going to finish all the blueberries.” But with just a few reminders to eat his salmon and bread as well, he ended up alternating and eating from all three foods! And when he eventually ran out of blueberries, he not only refrained from asking for more, he held up his empty bowl and handed it to me saying, “All done, thank you.” Wow.

Tip #3: Let him linger at the dining table
Most of the crying happened when it was time to get down from the high chair. After our toddler had just put the last of the sweet potatoes into his mouth, we’d thrust his water cup to his mouth, say, “Yay! All done!” and proceed with taking him down in lightning speed. We were scared that if given even just a little bit more time to stay at the table, he’d start asking for more food, so we wanted him down as fast as possible. “Get him down while he’s distracted,” we thought. Instead, LO would cling to the table, crying, “Stay! Want to eat!”

Then my husband said, “You and I like to sit and chat at the table, even if there’s no food left in front of us.” And we thought maybe our toddler didn’t want to get down from the table not so much because he was still hungry but because he actually enjoyed sitting here with us, sans food. Then of course mommy guilt took over: “Oh, no! You’ve forever erased his joy of eating and dining at the table! Now he’s going to be fast-food American instead of slow-food Italian (never mind that we’re not Italian)!”

Now, we let him linger at the table. If it looks like he’s ready to leave the table, I help him get down from his high chair. Otherwise we’ll talk, and I’ll mention that he could tell me if he wants to stay or go. And usually he’ll say the miracle words: “Want to get down and play.”

A truce is called
I’m amazed that through letting go of control, allowing a bit of mess here and there, and simply listening to my toddler, I was able to reap so much more compliance from him than what we had been currently doing. And more importantly, he feels like an equal, active participant at the dinner table, able to enjoy his meal and his company.

Maybe that’s all he wanted all along.

How do you handle food battles in your home? Do you have additional tips I could try to prevent any food flare-ups? What has worked for your kids? What hasn’t?