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Another weekend with my granddaughter and I continue to find that life is always wonderful when she’s around. She is at that wobbly-walking stage that is so adorable that it takes will power to let her cross a room on her own and not scoop her up just to squeeze the stuffing out of her. She has discovered my kitchen cupboards and drawers though. So I set her on the counter with the measuring cups she’d discovered and together we made miniature cupcakes. It is difficult for me to ever say “no,” to her. She clouds up and looks heart-broken, no matter how mildly (or rarely) I say it.

Still, it is something parents (and even grandparents) have to do occasionally. The challenge is to not let the negative “no’s” become the dominant experience of their day. The number of things a child should not do are endless: touching fragile or dangerous things (electric outlets, a Japanese bowl), going certain places (up the flight of stairs, across the street), committing behavior that is unacceptable (hitting, wearing muddy shoes in the house), and saying something wrong (lying, swearing, name-calling). The challenge is increased because children tend to quit “hearing” the word “no” when it is used too frequently.

Part of being a child (teen and adult) is that they learn by exploring; however, parents need to guide children and give them boundaries for their safety and character development. When I was a foster mother, we were taught that children actually thrive with boundaries. It gives them a sense of security and love. So how do we keep the balance between the negative no’s and the positive do’s? Linda Sonna, Ph.D., author of The Everything Toddler Book, points out, “We often tell kids not to do something without letting them know what they should be doing.” She gives the example, instead of, “No standing in the bathtub!” try, “We sit down in the bathtub because it’s slippery.” Later, when you notice your kid splashing away in a seated position, offer some praise (“I like how you’re sitting!”) to reinforce her good behavior.

Also, remove as many “no’s” as possible by child-proofing the home: place plugs in electric outlets, latches on drawers and cupboards that are off limits, and gates at the stairs. But children can also be taught. I watched my sister-in-law gently teach her son not to touch a fragile sailing ship made of shells that she kept on the table before her sofa. He never did play with it. I decided I could teach my children to live in a home where nice things were not all kept four feet above the floor. Not only does this prevent a home from having a schizophrenic décor appearance (books above, blue and red toys below), but the children can visit grandparents, etc. and understood without being told, not to touch what isn’t offered. It’s not about fear, it’s about acceptable boundaries.