This story is about Sandy Seahorse who learns to not say “no” all the time. Saying “no” all the time is a developmental phase called “negativism”, and is a stage that children go through between the ages of approximately 1,5-4 years of age. This is a normal step in developing independence and a sense of self, and is associated with not only resistance to cooperating but also to temper tantrums and outbursts of anger. As a parent or caregiver, this stage can be perceived as very challenging, as the child may resist cooperating even in situations when it is illogical or not in the interest of the child itself. While this may be very frustrating to deal with, we encourage parents to remember that this stage will pass, and that it is an important time of learning for your child.
The story follows Sandy as he is faced with a child even more firmly resistant to cooperating than he is himself (Celia). After experiencing Celia’s resistance to everything he suggests or asks, Sandy is frustrated and upset. This story is intended to provide a basis for discussion on boundaries and limits, as well as appropriate behaviour, in a way that young children can understand.
The important thing to remember as a parent or caregiver when dealing with negativism from your child is to model the behaviour that you would like your child to display. Show your child that even if you are frustrated, communication need not be reduced to shouting or other displays of anger. Using a low-affective approach is key. Try saying things such as:
“I can hear that you don’t want to do this. That is OK. But X needs to happen, so I wonder if we can find a way to get X done together.”
“I understand that you are angry. It’s OK to be angry. But the words that you just said are not OK. We speak to each other nicely, even when upset.”
“I understand that you are frustrated with mummy/daddy/grandma, how can we make it better?”
If you do get to the point where you also become angry and frustrated (it happens! Children going through the terrible two’s can be immensely frustrating!), try to model the behaviour you would like to see in your child in that kind of situation. Try saying:
“I did not mean to shout at you. I’m sorry. I can get angry and upset when you say X to me, but that does not mean I am allowed to shout. Can we start over?”
“I am sorry for getting angry. Can we calm down together?”
Also, remember that this is a normal developmental phase. It will pass! Try to view it as an opportunity to teach your child about interacting with others and how to communicate when overwhelmed by strong emotions. It can also be useful to speak to your child in a neutral, non-confrontational setting about cooperation and communication. If you feel like you need guidance for this conversation, have a look at the learning materials available for the “Sandy Seahorse” store here!