An age of independence

January 16, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

CEARFOSS - Toddler Jared Clipp loves to play with his family's VCR - and he won't take "no" for an answer.

"I tell him 'no no no,' but he just keeps smiling and saying 'no no no' right back to me," said Jared's mother, Jody Clipp of Cearfoss.

That's normal behavior for youngsters between the ages of about 1 1/2 to 2, who are trying to establish themselves as separate from their parents - a quest for autonomy that can cause conflict when neither parents nor children are willing to compromise, child developmental experts said.


"It's such an age of independence. Developmentally, they have to test you. They have to give you a run for the money," said parenting expert Karen Deerwester, who directs an early childhood center and owns a Florida-based coaching and consulting firm for parents and teachers.

"No" is a toddler's favorite word, one of the few ways a young child knows how to express his autonomy, said Terry Kitchen, director of the Children's Learning Center and early childhood education instructor at Hagerstown Community College.

It's up to parents to model language that toddlers can use to give words to their feelings and desires, to let children know they understand their feelings but will not accept destructive behaviors, and to give toddlers the opportunity to make choices so they learn the basics of problem-solving and experience a sense of independence, Kitchen and Deerwester said.

"It doesn't mean giving in to what they want. It just means giving them some simple choices so they feel like they have some power and control," Kitchen said.

Say to the toddler who refuses to go to bed: Would you like me to read you this story or that story before you go to sleep? Say to the child who refuses to leave the child-care center at the end of the day: Would you like to walk or would you like me to carry you?

The trick is to keep the choice simple, Kitchen said. And to follow through - even if it means physically removing the child from a situation. If that toddler who refused to leave the child-care center chooses not to walk out himself, carry him, Kitchen said.

"If the parent is going to give the directive to the child, you should only say it if you're ready to act on it. You have to stand by your words," Deerwester said. She advises parents to:

  • Avoid choices that involve threats. Youngsters will learn to distrust parents and the choices they offer if at least one of the options is always unappealing.

  • Think about the lesson you're teaching when you respond to a situation.

  • Forego giving choices if safety is at stake. If your youngster keeps pulling the cat's tail despite your admonitions to stop, for example, immediately separate the child from the cat and explain that you're doing so because the child's action hurts the animal.

    "Say, 'That hurts him, and I want you to stop. I'm not going to let you hurt the cat,'" Deerwester said. "You're creating a foundation for empathy and understanding."

  • Limit the amount of times you tell a child "no." Think of creative, positive ways to dissuade toddlers, saving "no" for a handful of situations you deem most worthy of a negative response.

Jody Clipp's experience raising her two older boys - Jacob, 11, and Joshua, 7 - has taught her that saying "no" alone does little to put the brakes on unwanted toddler behavior.

"They're so hands on. You never just talk to them. Sometimes you actually have to remove them from the situation," she said. "And everything has to be positive." She now takes Jared's hands in hers when he's playing with the off-limits VCR, tells him "no," leads him to another activity, and calls him a "big boy" for cooperating, she said.

"I try to encourage him, to praise him, rather than just saying 'no' from across the room," Clipp said.

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