Narrowly Focused Negativism

Narrowly Focused Negativism

Does it make you crazy that your toddler or preschooler readily complies with the instructions and requests from the folks at Romp n’ Roll whereas whenever you tell or ask her to do something you only get a resounding “No!” in return?  Well, believe it or not, this actually is an indication of how much your little one loves you.

Somewhere around 18 months of age, children become aware that they have personal power – they can exert influence on other people.  And for human beings at any age, power is intoxicating.  Consequently, they are psychologically compelled to test the limits of their newly discovered power, and this is typically done through “negativism” – the tendency to defy all directions, ignore all admonitions, and refuse to accommodate all entreaties.

Of course, this often leads to unpleasantness which even the little ones do not really enjoy.  As a result, they tend to reserve their exploration of power to interactions with those who they perceive as being most important in their lives – that is, their parents.  They simply are not as deeply invested emotionally with other people, so they are less inclined to pursue this critical developmental process with them.

As long as parents remain firm, this negativism will eventually pass.  In the meantime, I have to admit that I greatly enjoy the looks of amazement I get from mothers and fathers when their young child enthusiastically complies with me after stubbornly standing up to them.  They immediately come to the conclusion that there is something special about me.  But the truth is it really indicates there is something special about them.

Dr. Mike

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