My three-year-old daughter is wholeheartedly full-filling the shoes of the so called “Threenager” three-year-old stereotype. She tests the boundaries, pushes my buttons, listens to and repeats every word I say to her, and of course asks “why” in response to every direction I give her. But lately I have been struggling with saying “No”.
“I want ice cream for lunch”
“I don’t want to go to bed, I want to stay up later and watch TV”
“Eat the rest of your sandwich”
(Makes ugly face and chucks sandwich past my head)
“No! We do not throw things!”
There are some days when all I feel like I do is tell her what she cannot do. Yes, I use misdirection. Yes, I suggest something different. Yes, I try to answer her “why” questions with an explanation that will make sense to her and help her learn something. But it doesn’t happen 100% of the time. Lately, I find myself saying “no” but in my head I am thinking, “I am trying to teach my daughter to grow up to be strong, independent, smart an able to stand up for herself. I am trying to teach her that she has to work a little harder than a man to get to the same end game, and to do that, sometimes she will have to NOT take no for an answer.”
She will have to persevere, she will have to not give up. Yet day after day I am telling her no and part of me can’t stop worrying that I am killing some magical imaginative dream inside of her, little by little with every “no” I dish out. But how do you explain to a three-year-old when she should not take no for an answer? How do you teach a three-year-old to navigate the complicated waters of pushing boundaries to accomplish something great, just or deserving? How do you lead her to work through her own decisions?
If I say yes to everything, then I am spoiling her. If I say yes to these same questions one day but not another, then I am giving her mixed signals and confusing her. The best I can do is stick to my decisions and try to give her answers that help her to understand why my answer was “no” and begin to help her start making decisions for herself. Then I also have to remind myself that she is indeed only three-years-old, despite the fact that she bosses her sister around like a grown up, has actual serious conversations (about silly things) at the dinner table, and certainly already forms her own opinions about… well… everything.
I try to say “yes” whenever possible, even if it means the task will take five minutes longer, or be three times as messy. I try to say “yes” to things that will give her a moment of excitement and independence. I try to choose what I can say “yes” to that will combat the “nos” she hears all day long. Does that mean that sometimes she gets ice cream after her lunch? Yes. Does that mean sometimes I give in to the new shiny pink shoes at Target? Yes. Does that mean that she is painting her toes instead of the paper? Yes.
Maybe that moment of creative expression won’t teach her to not leave the party with a strange boy 15 years from now, but maybe it will give her the confidence to run for class president. So, paint those toes. Make those messes. Learn from the nos and grow from the yeses. And I hope, in the end it all balances out.
We’ll have to figure this out together little girl. One decision at a time.