Both of my kids learned to say no before they learned to say yes. For the affirmative they learned the words and asked specifically for what they wanted: milk, mommy, apple, truck. I wondered why they didn’t learn yes first or at approximately the same time as no. In fact, for my older son, it was many months after he learned to say no that he used the word yes. As for my younger son, no is one of his favorite words and yes has yet to enter his vocabulary.
I was surprised that they didn’t just learn to say yes to what the world around them offers. They begin by saying no to things they don’t want and naming the things they innately want, not what others assume they should want or need. Come snack time or play time, before they even ask, their needs for food and toys are delivered and they just grab the sippy cup or the truck. I suppose that is an unspoken affirmative. But why is their drive to verbally articulate no stronger than their drive to say yes?
Virtually every parent of a toddler knows the great frustrations of being on the receiving end of the big “NO” which is frequently served up with a healthy dose of screaming tantrum. What if we parents were the ones to throw the word no around in our adult life without any regard for its perceived consequences?
Having generally been a positive, upbeat, can-do person, I’ve used the word yes much more frequently than no. “Sure dear work colleague. I can pick up the slack on that project so the report is done before the board meeting tomorrow morning.” “Of course, I can make that phone call to the client from my hospital bed the day after I’ve given birth to my first child.” “And yes, yes I will get on that five-hour flight tomorrow to make it to our family reunion so you can all see my two-month old son, even though we both have a stomach virus and are running to the bathroom and changing table every 30 minutes.” Yes. I liked to say yes. It made me feel good. It made me feel like I was a good person. I was there for people.
More recently, hearing no on a daily basis from the two little people nearest and dearest to me somehow reprogrammed me to adopt no into my vocabulary. Part of it happened spontaneously. A friend asked if I could do her a small favor. Before my mind could even process the request, the word no had left my mouth. I was astonished. It took me a beat to realize what I had just said and I overcompensated by stating reasons and excuses. Why? No is no. Why did I have to explain myself? It didn’t take long before I just let the word no roll off my tongue to anyone and everyone without feeling any need to explain why no.