- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2003

It’s the abbreviation for number and the name of a Japanese theatrical style. It’s a word that non-parents may utter a couple times a day, while parents use it hundreds of times a day.

Yes, the word is “no.” We try not to say it each time the Little Viking, 13 months old, does something he’s not supposed to do — because that would be all the time.

A pretty good walker, the Little Viking is into everything, including the fridge, the entertainment center, trash cans, the dishwasher and our Rhodesian ridgeback’s water bowl.

So, we could be spending entire days saying nothing but “no.” How productive would that be? Not very, in my opinion.

“No” can be a very powerful word, but only if it’s used sparingly. We try to reserve it for situations that threaten someone’s well-being or the well-being of something dear to us.

If the Little Viking is about to pull the television down on himself, that’s a “no,” but if he’s pulling all the DVDs and videotapes from the entertainment center and throwing them on the floor, that’s an “OK, let’s see if we can put them back where they belong.”

By the same token, opening the fridge or dishwasher is an “OK, let’s see if you can help Mommy close the door. That’s right, open and close, open and close.” Trash cans are nasty, but usually not life-threatening, so that is normally a “Yuck, that’s dirty. Let’s go find your train.”

Though the threat to someone’s well-being is the main reason to say “no,” we also use the two-letter word when the Little Viking plays with Loke’s food bowls or, even worse, takes a bone away from Loke, our furry, four-legged, 90-pound friend.

Though Loke is patient and never aggressive toward our 13-month-old, anyone who has a dog knows that taking away a bone is not an OK move. It’s an act of punishment and sends the wrong signal to poor Loke, whose world was turned upside down with the arrival of the Little Viking. Few toys are his anymore, and the two-legged arrival definitely gets more attention. So, taking things from Loke also usually warrants a “no.”

Another productive measure in trying to limit the number of noes uttered per day is to baby-proof thoroughly. If the inquisitive and energetic toddler doesn’t encounter dangerous situations, there is no need to say the two-letter word.

On the other hand, too much baby-proofing doesn’t allow for many chances to explore and learn. If every drawer and door has a latch, the toddler won’t learn what drawers and doors do or, more important, what they hide or contain.

So, it’s a balancing act for the parent between providing a safe environment and encouraging exploration.

Though, admittedly, we use the two-letter word too much, we try to offer a “yes” or two along with it: “No, don’t mess with Loke’s bowl. Go get the truck. Yes, good job. That’s your truck.”

Not only are too many noes ineffective, but they’re also demoralizing. If we adults don’t like to hear them, why do we think it’s OK to say them to children all the time?

In adult life, we try to pick our battles, and we realize that we win some and we lose some. We love when our bosses, friends and family members answer us in the affirmative. Many of us simply feel we work better with positive reinforcement. But we realize reluctantly that sometimes we’re going to “lose” or get a “no.”

An almighty parent could make sure the child “loses” all the time, but what good would that do? It might discourage the child and dissuade him or her from exploring and learning because doing so always seems to entail a harsh “no.”

Instead of always catching the Little Viking doing something bad, we try to catch him doing good things so we get a chance to praise him: “Can Mommy please see your book? Thank you very much for sharing.”

While praising him, we try to show him how to be respectful and polite by saying “please” and “thank you,” which is not limited to adult-to-adult contact. We, the Little Viking’s parents, also feel the trait can’t be taught too early. It is as important a cornerstone in discipline, we feel, as encouragement and correction.

As with all other aspects of child-rearing, we the parents keep learning just as much about discipline, if not more, as the Little Viking on any given day.

One of these days, when we finally have learned how to avoid saying “no” all the time, the inevitable will happen: The Little Viking will learn how to say that all-powerful word himself — and our reaction probably will be “Oh, no.”

Gabriella Boston is a features writer for The Washington Times. She and her husband welcomed their “Little Viking” in May 2002. Send e-mail to gboston@washingtontimes.com.

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