"No!" No More
Did you know that the average one-year-old child hears the word “no” about 400 times a day? 400 times! I’ve been reading a lot about this topic of late, and learned that children that hear “no” all the time may be less likely to try new things or engage in different experiences.
Let’s take a look at this viral video as an example: https://www.today.com/video/2-year-old-helps-grandma-make-cookies-while-tasting-every-ingredient-91236421773
Here, we have an adorable little toddler, probably around two years old, who is baking cookies with his grandma, but he just can’t seem to keep his hands (and mouth) out of the ingredients. With each ingredient that’s poured into the mixing bowl: butter, sugar, and even raw egg, the boy, whose name is Cade, digs into the bowl to give it a taste as his grandma does her best to intercept.
The video has millions of views and tons of comments. It has supplied many people around the world with laughs and smiles. And yet, I found myself feeling a little sad watching it. In this video, I see a boy doing something totally natural and age appropriate: exploring ingredients with his hands and mouth. He’s exploring and engaging materials with his senses. It’s what toddlers do! Yet each time the mini chef dives in, his grandma grabs his hand, swats it away, and repeatedly tells him, “No, no, no,” albeit with a smile through her laughter. Now, I’m not suggesting we let a child inhale unsafe, raw ingredients like a full stick of butter. But poor Cade is kind of being set up to fail, in my opinion.
There are tons of benefits to cooking and baking with children. Cooking works on early math and science skills like measuring, volume, and things changing form. It illicits language and activates all the senses. And many children will be more apt to try something that they had a hand in making. While unintentional and well-meaning, each time Nana says “no” or takes his hand out of the bowl, she’s limiting his participation in and learning from the experience, and, ultimately, reinforcing that his natural urge to try and explore may be bad or wrong.
You may be asking yourself, “Okay, but what’s the alternative? What is Grandma to do when the little guy is about to ingest something harmful like raw egg?” Here’s the thing… the two-year-old toddler is following a completely natural impulse. I think we need to have fair and realistic expectations of our toddlers. I believe it is on US as the adults in these situations to be mindful and get ahead of the situation.
Perhaps, rather than repeatedly using negative language, like “no” or “stop,” she could rephrase. For example, “The raw egg is not safe for eating. It could give you a stomachache. But you can taste this, Cade” and hand the little guy a chocolate chip or a teeny tiny sampling of sugar. This gives an explanation and an alternative option.
Another way to look at this, could be setting up the experience in a way that eliminates the potential to say “no” to Cade’s natural behavior. Perhaps, she could have had the toddler involved only with the materials it’s okay for him to touch and taste. Maybe Cade had his own bowl, spoon, and set of portioned ingredients that he could touch that was not going inside the larger bowl. This might’ve meant that the child was only involved with a portion of the recipe, or that she set aside a small portion of materials for the child to explore that is separate from whatever is going into the big bowl. This would give the child the opportunity to smell, touch, and taste the ingredients as they wished to.
As the adults we should always strive to create an environment for children where we can say “yes” as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong… children need boundaries and it is up to us as the caretakers to establish and enforce those boundaries to keep children safe. So, it’s not that a “no” is bad. A “no” is important and often necessary for a child’s well-being. But I think we should consider how we say “no” to a child and take every opportunity to try to say “yes” instead, in order to set children up in situations where they can naturally be themselves.