Power No-Struggles

by Sonya Feher on April 7, 2009

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Right on schedule, around his second birthday, my son began practicing the word No. I read that kids use no as a way to individuate and to experiment with their personal power. The more attached they are, the more they need to individuate. Well, we were mighty attached because he started saying No frequently. I wasn’t used to our having such different agendas. If I ever felt myself getting frustrated or impatient, I would play Yes No. He would say, “No” and I would shake my head while also saying “No.” Then I would say, “Yes” and nod vigorously. We’d go back and forth until we were distracted from our original difference of opinion and were just playing a game.

Now, we play Yes No without ever having had a conflict to begin with. Cavanaugh looks at me and starts shaking his head. I shake mine. He starts nodding. I nod too. It’s fun, looking into each others’ eyes to watch for a direction shift, mimicking each other and taking turns leading the nod/shake action. Cavanaugh often initiates the game on days when we’ve been busy with activities and haven’t had a lot of alone quiet time with each other. It allows us to reconnect and having Yes No in reserve for those times when I feel us getting into a power struggle is a nice tool too.

Besides Yes No, we play variations of Kisses. A couple of months ago, Cavanaugh started refusing my kisses or I would give him a kiss and he’d wipe it off his cheek, “No kisses, Mama.” It turned out the kisses weren’t actually a problem for him; he liked getting them. He was just experimenting with body boundaries and whether he could say Stop or Go and have me follow his lead. So, I’d stop kissing his cheek and then he’d say, “More” and I’d kiss him some more. He giggled liked crazy and our original game has turned into Kiss Variations. Eskimo kisses with nose rubs turned to cheeks against each other, or chins. All of it accomplishes the same goal though: much fun and laughter, a lot of nurturing touch, and Cavanaugh getting to set boundaries and experiment with his personal power.

At an age when I was led to believe we’d be fighting or I’d be trying to hide my embarrassment during a two-year-olds tantrum at the store, both of us are experimenting with setting limits. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with the power struggles that inevitably come up between parents and toddlers?

Sonya Feher is a writer and mama living in Austin, Texas. She blogs at http://mamatrue.com .

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Sonya Feher (28 Posts)

Sonya Fehér is mama to Cavanaugh True. She is the leader of the S. Austin chapter of API and is a professional organizer with spaceWise Organizing where she helps individuals and families create space for how they want to live.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

justine April 7, 2009 at 8:58 am

This sort of playfulness is exactly what our little ones are looking for when they “push our buttons” It can be difficult to practice when we are wrapped up in the moment though: our knee-jerk parenting programming kicks in usually. I often use Pam Leo’s Connection Parenting technique of Rewinding (just simply start over the right way after you’ve said or done the wrong thing with your kids). And now I will be adding the No/Yes game to my parenting tool box, as well!

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sonya April 15, 2009 at 11:16 pm

I found Connection Parenting very helpful as well. I appreciate the reminder about the rewinding technique. I’m finding I need it more with a two and a half year old than I have in his whole life up to now. Another really helpful book is Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. His perspective has definitely helped me to be a better parent–maybe just to interact with all people better. Yep, I like the book that much.

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Melodie April 8, 2009 at 6:19 pm

What a great idea! Definetely the most creative one I have read about for dealing with power struggles. I will definetely be trying this with my almost 2 yr old. Thanks!

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Richard H. Smith April 15, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Dear Mama Sonya,
Cavanaugh and you have hit the bull’s eye for relating. The greater the attachment the more Cavanaugh will (not need to) individuate. Attachment experts (Bowlby, Ainsworth and on down the line) mistakenly believed individuation had to overcome attachment, but a child cannot individuate unless the child believes the child belongs socially. Cavanaugh belongs. The next step is learning that Why can replace No and will be used with the same determination to establish control. Control is essential for all of life to continue living and control also means respecting limits that is obvious to you. The primary test for being in control is to control making a desirable surprise. If an activity makes a surprise the child believes “I did it”, not mother or others or an accident. This pride in being emhances the sense of belonging and gives security for many more variations on this theme of being in control through surprise. For more info

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sonya April 15, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Thanks for pointing out that “why” is a replacement for “no’ with the same need behind it. It makes perfect sense that children want to control their worlds. I’m not quite sure I know what you mean by making control a desirable surprise, but I’m interested in the idea.

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