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Learning To Embrace The Word "No"

03/23/2016 12:51 EDT | Updated 03/24/2017 05:12 EDT
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Portrait of a smiling cute toddler

No.

NOOOO!

NO WAY MOMMY!!!!

The sound of my toddler's obstinance can be heard from the neighbour's house two doors down. I take a deep breath and brace myself, trying desperately not to enter into a power struggle with this tiny wannabe dictator. I am the boss in this house. Or at least that's the mantra I silently chant to myself as I decide how to respond to my child, other than the obvious "YES WAY".

The word "no" is not a new addition to my daughter's vocabulary. It has been around for a while, and as such she has been exercising her right to use it at an alarmingly frequent rate, and at an increasingly powerful decibel.

"Do you want to try this?"

"No."

"You need to finish your carrots please."

"NO."

"It's time to go pee pee on the potty."

A very emphatic "NOOOOOO mommy."

I take a deep breath (or three), summon up my patience, and remind myself that the word "no" is a powerful addition to her vocabulary, and it is not one that I want removed from her repertoire.

In fact, "no" is a word that I hope firmly and permanently implants into her vocabulary, and a word in which I will encourage her to use.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. The word "no" is powerful. Though it is contrary to the people-pleasing nature that is innate in all of us, the word "no" sets clear boundaries. Boundaries that I want my daughter to be confident in setting for herself as she grows older, goes to school, and eventually moves away from our ever-watchful eyes.

To be clear, this does not mean that my daughter is going to get away with not eating her vegetables simply by saying "no" to eating them. She will not be permitted to do as she pleases if she responds "no" to a request from her father and I. She will still have to clean up her 900 books and stuffed animals that are strewn across the living floor.

But when my daughter is out in the world on her own, I want the word "no" to flow as easily from her lips as it does when I tell her it's time to turn the tv off.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if she sees a classmate being victimized on the playground.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if an adult is touching her in a way that makes her uncomfortable.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if a close friend wants her to try smoking for the first time.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if the popular group wants her to go along with the crowd.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if her boyfriend wants her to go further than she is ready to go.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if she is offered a ride with a friend who has been drinking.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if a relationship is forcing her to be someone she is not.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if her boss isn't treating her equally.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if she is not ready to get married.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if the disease to please is getting in the way of her own happiness.

I want her to be comfortable saying "no" if she is putting herself last in her life.

Teaching and encouraging my daughter to use the word "no" to set boundaries for herself is a skill I believe to be as important as teaching and encouraging her to be compassionate and empathetic towards others. By learning to set boundaries for herself, she is in fact learning to be compassionate and empathetic towards herself. She is learning to listen to her heart, to discern why she doesn't want to do something, and then to follow through. She is learning to be true to herself. She is learning to trust herself.

By learning to say "no" my daughter is actually learning to say "yes".

"Yes" to healthy relationships.

"Yes" to being treated with respect.

"Yes" to owning her own body.

"Yes" to prioritizing her personal safety.

"Yes" to her own happiness.

So as I take my deep breaths and prepare to address the innocent little girl yelling "NO" at her mommy, I remind myself that this is a teachable moment. This is a toddler practicing setting boundaries in the only way that her two-year-old mind knows how. I remind myself that the word "no" is powerful.

I remind myself that as this little girl's mommy, I say "yes" to embracing the word "no."

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