It’s really not that big of a deal.
It’s just that as a word it’s a closed door. Heavy, cumbersome solid wood hanging on a rusted hinge and squeaking uncomfortably against its frame for which it is ill-fit.
In the middle, printed clearly, are two letters. “NO”.
No! Not for baby. Cut it out. Don’t do that! Stop that! Don’t! Stop! Not a toy! You’ll break that! Don’t climb! No Jumping! Not for you! Put it down!
It’s a door that, when slammed shut, is often mistaken for teaching. For being firm. For setting limits.
Sure. It teaches. It teaches “no”.
Which is fine. Many people feel that “no” is a good word and that in the early years it’s impossible to over-use.
It is not the approach that I have chosen.
In that thin strip of empty space at the bottom of the door, curious shadows dance and a bright enticing light shines. There’s a world of wonders, and the promise of those things will send children to that doorknob time and time again until they are strong enough to be able to pull it open and sneak past.
And then they will. Old enough to get in trouble that they lack the knowledge to understand.
What comes on the other side of that door? When you step past that first reaction with your child and you explore that thing hand-in-hand, side by side?
“Can I show you how?”
“Right there. Look. It is sharp. It is hot. Ouch!”
“This is what being careful looks like.”
“Hold on to it like this, see? Yes, just like that.”
“If you fall, fall away from the edge.”
“Mind the edges.”
“That is a narrow space to stand. It is high up. Is there anything to hold onto?”
“Look? See? That pulls away easily, then you will fall.”
“That is fragile. See how carefully I pick it up? And then it goes down slow..”
“I don’t think Alexander likes it when you do that.”
“Does she look like she is having fun?”
“Oh dear, I dropped a glass and it broke. I have to clean it up carefully because all the pieces are sharp like splinters.”
“Oh no, this room is a mess! We cannot find anything. Let me show you where each little thing lives so we can put them all away.”
“How do you think we can…?”
“Can I help you?”
“I’m watching. You’re doing it safely. I’ll let you know if you need to be more careful.”
It’s not a tear-free approach. Sometimes things get broken. But I’m pretty sure that my life isn’t tear-free either, and sometimes things get broken.
And I learn from those times.
So do they.
My job isn’t to say no every five minutes. It’s to keep them safe from the unacceptable consequences while teaching them how to do all the things that they want to do. Safely.