The “no!” stage of toddlerhood

I’m reading Hold on to your kids: why parents matter by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté for this month’s parenting book club. I came across this excerpt that I thought was too meaningful and lovely to keep to myself. Hopefully this can bring some sense of peace and understanding to other parents going through a stage of constant resistance (or “counterwill”) with their kids.

Counterwill first appears in the toddler to help in that task of individuation. In essence, the child erects a wall of “no”s. Behind this wall, the child can gradually learn her likes and dislikes, aversions and preferences, without being overwhelmed by the far more powerful will of the parent. Counterwill may be likened to the small fence one places around a newly planted lawn to protect it from being stepped on. Because of the tenderness and tentativeness of the new emergent growth, a protective barrier has to be in place until such a time as the child’s own ideas, preferences, wants, meanings, initiatives, independence, perspectives are rooted enough and strong enough to take being trampled on without being destroyed.

Next time Avery is fighting me on which boots to wear to daycare, I’m going to try to conjure up this metaphor to bring me patience and understanding. To help me understand why it is such a big freaking deal for her to want the totally weather-inappropriate shoes instead of her warm boots. I’m not saying I’m going to let her wear flip-flops in winter, but maybe I’ll be able to calmly compromise instead of losing my patience.

Here’s another excerpt that has played out in our lives almost exactly. Avery knows her colours – like, with 100% accuracy, even the difference between aqua and turquoise. At bedtime, one of her favourite books is a book about rainbows. She would recite it word for word. And then, one day, she started pointing at the red page and saying it was pink. And at the blue page and saying it was yellow. We would get into light-hearted arguments of “no it’s red,” “no it’s pink,” “no it’s red,” “no it’s pink…”. It was strange. The book has this to say about my experience:

A five year old quite secure in the attachment with his parents might react to a “sky is blue” kind of statement by retorting adamantly that it is not. It may seem to the parent that the child is blatantly contrary, oppositional, defiant or trying to be difficult. In reality, the child’s brain is simply blocking out any ideas or thoughts that have not originated with him. Anything that is alien to him is resisted in order to make room for him to come up with his own ideas. The final content will most likely be the same – the sky is blue – but when it comes to being one’s own person, originality is what counts.

Interesting stuff!

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