Effectively Countering Negativism
Without a doubt, the favorite word of a child starting at a year-and-a-half to two years of age is “No!” Whatever request is made or instruction issued by mother and father is likely to be met with a defiant refusal. This is what is referred to as “negativism,” and it is perfectly normal at this stage of development.
While children will engage in and enjoy social interactions from the first months of life, it is usually around the middle of the second year that they realize they have power in social interactions – it is possible to make other people dance to their tune. And it is a fundamental fact that human beings find power intoxicating. Once you realize you have it, you are compelled to test its limits. Unfortunately, once little ones discover they have social power, they must explore the full range and extent of it. And the most tempting way for them to do that is to defy their mothers and fathers.
So when your child engages in this negativism, the worst thing you can do is give in and appease her. That will only embolden her and encourage her to push harder. Then when her behavior becomes intolerable and you try to crack down, you will be dealing with the “terrible twos” – an older, stronger, and smarter child who will employ explosive tantrums and anything else she can think of to get her way.
Of course, holding firm can be extremely difficult and unpleasant. However, you can make things easier on yourself by giving your child appropriate choices instead of issuing direct requests or instructions whenever possible. For instance, instead of saying, “Put on your shirt” or “Will you please put on your shirt?” when trying to get her dressed in the morning, you can say, “Do you want to put your shirt on first or your pants on first?” By giving her options within reasonable parameters, you put her in a position of power but one that does not necessitate confronting you. And ultimately she will learn that although she is a respected person who does indeed possess some power, at this point in her development she is not the boss.
Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.