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My second son recently turned two. Friends have commented that my first son skipped the terrible twos. They presume my professional skill set will get us through them again. I don’t fancy my chances. This series of articles presents ten tips for negotiating this time with small ones. Know that with every strike of the keys, I remind myself that advice is easy to give and hard to follow. I will be attempting to practice what I preach this coming year: wish me luck!

‘No’ is the favourite word of many a two-year-old. My own two-year-old must utter it at least 60 times a day. He is also very interested in counting, “Ready? 1…2….5!” He’ll shout to his brother. Or counting the stairs “1…2…4…6..7….. …..10!” He gets his numbers muddled and he also gets his use of the word ‘no’ muddled. But the people around him react very differently to the two. The numbers muddle usually generates smiles, his brother especially finds it funny. But when he uses no” when he actually means “yes” he is more likely to get a retort, to get sour looks.

At the moment he is saying “no” in response to questions. Not because he doesn’t want to do things. Not because he “wants his own way,” but just because he has understood that when someone asks you something you are supposed to reply and “no” is the reply that springs to his mind first, he knows “yes” too but doesn’t tend to think of this one first. I wonder if that’s because saying “yes” is a less memorable event in his mind. Saying “no” certainly gets a bigger response.

I am used to working with people who do not use language, so I am used to listening to communication across a bigger spectrum. I find I get less annoyed by his “no”s than other people around him and I think this is the difference. I’ve said “Let’s go and get lunch” he has said “no” but has begun walking towards the kitchen, so I read it as a “yes”.

Sometimes “no” is a holding pattern whilst he thinks. In his life, things happen to him a lot. He has picked up from things he is doing. Activities he is busy with get packed away. Adults make demands of him all the time and make sudden changes to his world (he doesn’t live with a particularly unreasonable set of adults, we are doing things like changing his nappy, or getting his brother to school). In the word “no” he has found, potentially, a way to fend us off, to pause us before we interrupt what he is doing.

I want his “no”s to work. Just like I want his “stop”s to work. His brother has been briefed that in any tickle fight if he says “stop” it is hands off immediately. It is a rule we all follow. These are, after all, his words for consent. I want him to know these words are powerful, these words work, so that if ever – God forbid – there were a time when he was with an adult and his “no” or “stop” didn’t work, he would know it was wrong and shout all the louder. I do not want him to be used to his voice being ignored.

But…I also do not want to get myself into the stand-off, where I’m saying “yes” and he’s saying “no”. Prevention is always better than cure, and the way to prevent these stand-offs is to use a mixture of Align-Attune-Invite (article 2) and directed agency. By this I mean you give a direction, and they get to use their agency in receiving the direction. And all of that is just a fancy way of saying give them a choice.

We are outside playing football, it is time to go in and get a drink. I’m aligned, because I’m in the game of football, I am attuned, I pick a lull in the match to create my invitation, and my invitation is going to involve a choice that gives him agency, so: “I’m thirsty. I wonder what drinks we have inside. Would you like water, or would you like milk?”

“Milk!”

“Let’s go and get some milk”.

Another one that works particularly well on our two-year-old is a request for his great knowledge. He has recently figured out where things are about the house, and he is so pleased with his knowing that he hasn’t realised we all know it too. So, we are playing Lego in the living room but it is time to get dressed for bed. This time my invitation might be: “We need pyjamas, where are the pyjamas?” (With the “where” phrased as if I am a baffled adult, which I frequently am so this takes little acting, rather than a “where” that would form part of a test”). This is followed by the choice “Which pyjamas would you like to wear?”

Be warned though, these do not work if they are your second strategy. If you’ve said: “It’s time to get our pyjamas on now” and been told “no”, cracking out: “Which pyjamas would you like?” isn’t going to work. You have to be aligned and attuned and then send that invite out with the choice very carefully.

I’ve begun to believe it is more likely to work if I do not move first, but I couldn’t yet tell you whether this is true or just superstition on my part. But, for example, with the leaving the football game to get milk, I’ll wait for him to be the first person to take a step towards the kitchen, then I follow behind. I am happy for him to feel in control of his life, it is his life after all. For now, I do a little directing from behind the scenes but in the blink of an eye he will be out there without me and I want him to be confident making in his choices and setting his boundaries.

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects. Joanna draws on her own personal experiences to inform her writing surround neurodivergence, SEN, and inclusion in early years.

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects. Joanna draws on her own personal experiences to inform her writing surround neurodivergence, SEN, and inclusion in early years.

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects. Joanna draws on her own personal experiences to inform her writing surround neurodivergence, SEN, and inclusion in early years.

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