The terrible two's: How to handle your child's loud and clear 'NO!'
It can be a shock for a parent, when their sweet and loving baby suddenly turns against them with this loud and clear no. Sometimes parents experience it as a rejection, a withdrawing of the child's love. And understanding it this way can lead to a cascade of misunderstandings between parent and child, and to a souring of the relationship.
However, this NO is indicative of a very important shift in the child's position: from being a baby who could not conceive of anything other than doing what the parent wants, towards becoming his or her own person! This is a moment to be celebrated. As Dolto points out: The child says 'no,' to be able to do 'yes.' What does this mean? That the child says no, 'because you ask me, and I do not want to do whatever you ask me, as I am my own person'. However, the child immediately follows up with a yes, 'but I want to do it for me, because I am a becoming a big boy, or a big girl, and I want to do things on my own, for me.'
If the parent understands this, these ‘two's’ do not have to be so terrible. Typically, when the parent does not insist, or refers to another adult of importance for the child as making the same request, the child will eventually do it. The child will do it not to please the mother or father, but to become his own person, and not just a 'child' that is commanded like a pet, or a little kid.
If the parent reads this no as a rejection, but as a positive intention of the child moving towards developing his own personality, separated from the parent, the child might feel that the parent is needing him or her to stay this parental extension. The child might get the message that he is there only for the sake of pleasing the mother, satisfying her needs, but is not respected in his or her own desires. If a third element or person does not intervene to bring about this separation between the parent and the child, it might be the beginning of difficulties for the child, and for the parent – child relationship. The child might move back and forth between compliance and revolt and opposition. But stuck in this dynamic the child stays stuck to the parent in what can sometimes become an infernal dynamic for all parties involved. In that case therapy might help both parent and child to help bring about the separation that has not had a chance to occur. It is precisely this separation, (which indeed will imply a certain loss), that will make a connection possible between parent and child. A connection that will be much more pleasurable than the infernal dynamic of opposition and reconciliation.
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