Saturday, February 6, 2021

What Happened to Common Sense? What Happened to Boundaries?

It's Time to Say No

Who's in charge here?!

Toddlers need boundaries and consistency, firmness and warmth, clarity and authority

Several years ago--when our town still had large, open bookstores big enough to have multiple floors, an elevator, and a cafe--I witnessed a parenting goof (not my own, this time!) that felt like a perfect illustration of how dangerous it can be when adults forget how to say no to very small children.  A lady with a newborn in a bulky stroller and a toddler in tow was making her way to the elevator on the basement level of the store, trying to walk with this small boy but not able to both hold his hand and simultaneously steer the stroller.  As she tried to walk past the large set of stairs going up to the main street level, the little boy began to balk, saying he wanted to climb the stairs and NOT ride the elevator.  She lukewarmly seemed to be negotiating or haggling with him.   I was too far away to offer to help and it happened so fast--I was paying attention largely because we had experienced a scary elevator separation thingy with our impulsive toddler once!--the mom got onto the elevator with the huge stroller and doors began to close while the toddler bolted up the stairs, stairs that led to the first floor and automatic doors that opened out to cars and traffic.  

So the lady was torn between grabbing the stroller, already tucked into an otherwise empty elevator, doors closing now, or dashing over and snatching the renegade, who was swiftly scrambling upwards.  It seemed like time slowed down, everyone in the vicinity held their breath, and watched in speechless horror.

I don't remember who saved the day, but some kind stranger closeby helped unite the three of them, much to the lady's relief (and mine).  Lesson taken:  toddlers don't recognize danger and can be VERY FAST when they want to be, so gird yourself with vigilance, firmness and authority next time you go out with one! 

Fast forward to today.  It has become even harder for parents to say no, thanks to the swing of the parenting pendulum from "dictatorial"/authoritative to "pushover"/permissive.  For the past several years it has been considered SO MEAN to say no to children, both for teachers and parents. We bend over backwards to find alternatives to no, much to the detriment of common sense.  Sometimes new teachers are even coached to never say no.

Back in 2016 I wrote this short piece about this phenomenon, but there is a brand new Youtube video called, "It's Time to Say No" that's well worth checking out.  This is a conversation with Claudia Alvarez, a Montessori guide of more than 25 years. The main take aways are to be ready to say no authoritatively whenever safety is at stake, and whenever a toddler is a new member of the classroom.  In a class, for the first four to six weeks be ready to dole out plenty of no's in order to establish clear, consistent boundaries so that the young child knows what's acceptable and NOT acceptable.  Keep words to a minimum and save long-winded explanations and discussions of emotions for older children.

Alvarez also gave an example of when she was a young mother attending a parenting class with her small daughter.  When her daughter cried and carried on about something insignificant, the teacher trainer said something that was hard to hear:  "This is an adult problem."  In other words, as the mother Alvarez had to learn to say no to her daughter, providing clear, consistent boundaries.  

The host of this program, Jesse McCarthy, echoed many of his guest's sentiments, adding that he has never been a big fan of Positive Discipline, an approach to disciplining young children often recently touted by many in the Montessori community.  In an upcoming blog post I'll review a book I admire that shares McCarthy's dim view of Positive Discipline.  

It's refreshing to see hear some common sense coming from this community!


  1. "This is an adult problem" A thousand daggers hit my heart when I listened to her say that.

    What an eye opening post.

    1. Also, while listening to the video,it's also quite relieving at the same time. "It's okay to say no."

      I have often found myself explaining "why" - because that's what frustrated me as a child, no on told me "why". But, that doesnt mean my kids, especially the youngest ones, need to hear more than "no".

  2. Honestly I'm learning so much still and my kids are mostly grown! I think I'll be a good Grandma if I ever get the chance, but I'll never stop learning!