Power No-Struggles

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 .