The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 20, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Avoiding "no" smart, regardless of pundit's opinions

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Several days ago, I had a moment to sit down and watch an interview with an actress about her policy of never saying "no" to her daughter.

I kind of expected the news anchors to fall all over themselves in praise of her hip, smart parenting style, so I stayed put to watch the story unfold. But instead of delving into the parameters of her ideology, the story jumped fitfully around a few talking points.

The actress, Marla Sokoloff, noticed herself aiming a constant stream of "no" towards her toddler and, fed up, changed her tactics. Instead of overusing the word, she decided to reserve "no" for only a handful of specific circumstances, most of which held a potential for danger.

In all of the other cases she would have said "no" to her toddler, Sokoloff instead resorted to redirection and distraction.

With admittedly few details to go on, I found myself feeling rather supportive of the young mother's ideals. It seemed like she wasn't trying to avoid parenting her child, but was simply focusing on using her words carefully and creatively.

I believe that when parents resort to "no" too often, the word becomes something less meaningful. It becomes unimportant and frivolous. It becomes a joke, especially with toddlers who are only looking for ways to control their environments using limited language. "No" becomes a fun game to repeat over and over again.

Of course, as soon as I began mentally applauding the actress's parenting style, the news anchors began to dismantle her motives. They proposed that she only wished to be her daughter's friend and was completely neglecting the disciplinary role required of parenthood.

They touted the universal truth that children require boundaries: forced externally by parents at first, then regulated internally as a result of responsible guidance during the formative years. The news personalities and requisite experts laughed at Sokoloff's misinformed views before moving on to other important news topics.

Somehow, though, I couldn't pay attention. I was floored by the almost complete dismissal of the actress' strategy, and couldn't stop thinking about all the ways one can be a successful parent without resorting to negative demands all day long.

And let's be honest: Being the parent of a toddler could drive one to such tactics. One- and 2-year-olds are nefarious disrupters, blatant destroyers, dangerous explorers. They can get themselves into more compromising situations in 10 minutes than most of us could imagine keeping up with in an entire morning. Toddlers are in need of some serious guidance.

But saying no isn't the only way to teach lessons and provide boundaries. A firm, simple statement when paired with a steering hand is often both more effective and more attention-getting than the overused "no."

"The stove is too hot, play over here instead." Or, "That belongs to somebody else, look at this toy!"

If we're going to be lobbing directions at our little ones all day anyway, why not use positive words instead of a relentless tearing-down that leaves toddlers feeling frustrated and out-of-control?

Why not use words that empower them to find all the things they can do? And why not allow those wild and crazy explorers to hear their parents as encouraging supporters instead of embattled drill sergeants?

Finally, and most importantly, why not turn off the willfully antagonistic news anchors, and get back to the real world Ñ the place where parents are willing to try new things in order to make the task of child-rearing a little more pleasant, one word at a time.