The toddler's vocab gets bigger by the day. But however many new ‘words’ they pick up, half the ones they use are always the old favourite: No. There're are plenty of toddlers managing just fine with this one word.
In a short space of time Little Bear's really mastered the ‘no’. All in all he’s got 5 different no’s he uses during the week.
1. The sweet and patronising ‘no’
He tilts his head at us and gently frowns. It’s often accompanied by the wagging of a finger. This comes when we’ve broken a toddler rule: such as suggesting that he shouldn’t switch the washing machine off mid-cycle; that he might like to eat the food in front of him instead of painting the walls with it; or that he needs to take a nap whilst in the middle of playing with the fire-engine.
2. ‘No [enter any relevant noun here]’
Then there’s the more common ‘no [whatever word you just said]’. It’s more matter of fact.
Pappa: It’s time to sleep now
Little Bear: No sleep (carries on playing)
Pappa: Can Pappa have a hug?
Little Bear: No Pappa hug (carries on playing making Pappa feel like a needy loser)
Pappa leans over to eat his own Weetabix when Little Bear is happily eating his.
Little Bear: No Pappa Bix! (Only I’m allowed breakfast in this house. Pappa’s spoon is then confiscated)
3. Enforcer: ‘No Pappa you’re not allowed to’
Then there’s the angry no that implies you, and specifically you because your name follows, have committed a sin. If you pick up a spoon or pop a piece of bread into your mouth, a quick ‘no Pappa!’ Is followed by Little Bear swooping the spoon out of your hand, or the bread out of your mouth (to be promptly put in his own mouth despite having just refused it for 10 minutes). This isn’t about what Little Bear wants, it’s about what others aren’t allowed to do.
At soft play the other day I told him it was dangerous to play with plug-sockets. When a baby crawled over and tried to stick his fingers in, Little Bear gave him a firm ‘No Baby!’, enforcing the rule he’d just learned. Great, he's little mister safety. When the baby ignored ignored him however he then took matters into his own hand and pushed the unsuspecting little pudding over. (Yes, he’s now that little asshole toddler I complained about only 6 months ago who tells off the babies who don’t understand what they’re doing)
4. Rejection ‘No’
By far the most common ‘no’ is often misunderstood by his poor unsuspecting relatives and our friends as a heart felt rejection. It is pointed at a certain person, and said with a cruel dispassion to inform them that whilst they want to give him some love, their services are not required. They are rejected.
Little Bear: ‘Up stair!’
Tony: ‘Let’s go up the stairs Little Bear, I’ll take you [enthusiasm bubbling away in the unsuspecting grown-up]’
Little Bear: ‘No Tony stair. Bye bye Tony. Mamma stair. No Tony’. Tony is left feeling crushed by this rejection… at the bottom of the stairs.
But knowing Little Bear better (arguably) more than anyone else, this is not Little Bear showing favourites. My wife is clearly more lovely than me, and he does it just as much to her when I’m around as the other way round. It’s because he’s not just thinking he needs a thing, he’s also thinking that everything involved in getting that thing must play out in the way he’s imagined it. What Tony didn’t realise is that where Little Bear imagined going up the stairs, he also imagined Mamma walking up with him. There's just no other way Tony.
He’s use to me giving him breakfast in the morning. If my wife (or anyone else) tries to do it instead of me (normally because I badly need to pee), it’s unacceptable to Little Bear.
Little Bear: ‘You brought me down and promised me the Bix Pappa. So no, no to anyone else getting involved, no to you peeing (just use your nappy and stop wasting my time), and no to you thinking we’re done until I’ve finished arsing around with doing the bib myself and spilling the milk everywhere.’
When it comes to bedtime, my wife does it 6 days a week. So if he thinks I’m taking over during a weekday, I get the no treatment, and a swift ‘bye-bye Pappa’.
My wife and I used to feel rejected by these no’s, but since we realise why he’s doing them, they’re actually kind of cute. I can’t speak for all babies, but it might (just might) explain why in more traditional families babies are all about insisting mum does everything since in the toddler’s world, she probably does most stuff so it’s what the tots are expecting?... just putting it out there.
5. ‘No’ Zero – the meltdown
These no’s are the worst not because they’re less adorable than the other no’s (though they are), nor because they can hurt your eardrums (they can). They’re the worst because your toddler will contradict themselves and clearly has no idea about what they want or what they’re feeling. They want the ball but no ball! They want to be carried but no carry! They want the milk but ... ok he always wants the milk. But normally there’s obvious contradictions in what he’s looking for.
I’ve heard parents say they think their kids are frustrated because they can’t explain what they want. This is not Little Bear’s problem. He articulates well two directly contradictory needs and then shouts no to both of them. This kid just don’t know what he wants.
Until this morning, when my wife came down for breakfast and noticed something. Little Bear was simultaneously grasping the spoon out of my hand calling for his Bix then throwing it on the floor shouting ‘no Bix’. This had lasted 10 minutes (on top of me needing to pee).
Wife: ‘Maybe he just wants to assert his will on the world. You know, it’s a new thing for him and he’s trying it out. Hasn’t got the hang of contradictions yet’
She then leant over, too the spoon from me and said ‘Mamma will feed you’
‘No Mamma!’ Little Bear proudly proclaimed. ‘Pappa Bix!’ Swiping the spoon off his mum, putting it in my hand and opening his mouth for his first bit of the day. As he beamed in his newly asserted will, my wife and I smiled at each other, enjoying this awesome new parenting cheat that we’d just discovered.
All these no’s, and it’s just because he wants to be as bloody minded as his parents. I totally get that. Could we be more proud?
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots