Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Conan's vocabulary is steadily building. He now regularly uses these words:

Birr (Bird)
Bobbol (Bottle)
Boon (Balloon)
Kee (Kitty)
Dok (Dog and/or cow)
Hot (which also means cold)
Dat (That, usually accompanied by pointing)

I've also heard Stick, Tiger, Rock and something that sounded a lot like Good Job recently. It's a pretty good list of words, with one pretty glaring ommission. Do you see what is missing?

No? Yeah, that's right, No.

At nearly 17 months old Conan does not say no. He never has. Sure, sometimes he refuses. He shakes his head, and sometimes even cries and stomps his feet and throws things. But he has never once even used a "nnnn" sound to express his refusal. I'm sure that eventually, like all toddlers, he will become enamored with No. But so far, he's very much a Yes boy. He'll happily sing Yeah-Yeah-Yeah to himself while he plays, and if you ask him a question he'll almost always answer with an enthusiastic Yeah! It's really sweet.

I'm not sure why he doesn't say No, but I have a couple of ideas. For one thing, we've tried to make Conan's environment safe for him to explore, so we don't have to constantly tell him no. Most everything in the house that he can access is ok for him to get into. We didn't do this because we're extra specially enlightened parents, we did it because it's much easier, in the long run, to spend a few afternoons child-proofing than it is to constantly watch out for him getting into things he's not supposed to get into. Because he WILL get into everything he can.

More than that though, I think it comes from focusing on telling him what I want him to do, rather than what I don't want him to do. So instead of telling him not to stand on the chair, I tell him to please sit down on his bottom. Instead of telling him "No throwing food" I tell him "Give it to Mama." "Pet the kitty on the back"
is more effective than "Don't poke the kitty's eyes." It was hard at first, but I've gotten better at it over the months, to the point where it's almost automatic for me to give Conan positive instructions instead of prohibitions.

I'm certainly not perfect at always giving him positive instructions, and it's not like he's never been told NO. But I do make an effort. I started doing it because I noticed that, for instance, If I said "don't throw your food" it was as if he heard only "throw your food." The negative just didn't seem to register. Even at a very young age (around 9 months or so) he'd do exactly what I just told him not to do. I found pretty quickly that if I rephrased my requests into the positive it had a much more satisfactory effect.

I wonder if it works on grown-ups too? I should give it a try. The whole world could use more positive instructions and fewer prohibitions, I bet. It'd be pretty nice if someday No wasn't a primary word in our vocabularies.

1 comment:

Trudel said...

I was very interested to read your observations about positive instruction as opposed to negative. About a year ago I read something similar in regards to adults and have been focusing on incorporating it in my communication. "Don't forget your jacket at work" only seems to translate into "forget your jacket at work", where "remember to bring home you're jacket" really does seem to make a difference. 40 years old or 1.5 yrs, it's all the same!