“They are so cute.” I thought to myself whenever I saw small children playing. I had always loved connecting with children of all ages, especially children with energy. This love of mine drew me to creating a play group which consisted of five, one-and-a-half year-old boys.
I was pretty new at working with this age, and so I believed that two-year- olds were misunderstood by those who labeled this age the “terrible twos”. I went about enjoying my childcare group. We had wonderful experiences together and grew to care for each other.
We met in a two-story building out in the country with plenty of space to explore. One of the activities the boys enjoyed was walking up the stairs with me and then coming down on our bottoms. It was great fun! One day as we were walking past the stairs on our way to the toy room, one of the boys decided to go up the stairs without me. That was not okay. But what was even worse was that the others followed. When I asked them to come down, the leader, who had just turned two, said: “No”. One by one the others echoed with increasing energy and volume. Suddenly it seemed that these tiny people had the power to overthrow my authority. It was clear that they were moving into the next phase of life, and I had no clue about how to handle it.
That night I found myself praying deeply for help. My prayer was something like this, “Please help me figure out how to get these kids not to say “No”.” I was desperate. After some time, my thoughts turned inward. I could see how many times I said “no” to life when presented with new opportunities. This realization filled me with compassion for my boys—we had something in common. The difference between us was that I was older, and I was there to share what I knew about “no”.
The next day I was again confronted with the inevitable “No” when I asked one of the boys to let me change his diaper.
“Is your diaper wet?” I asked.
“No”, he said.
“Let’s check. Do you know how to check if your diaper is wet?”
“No.” he responded.
“Well, you can touch it and see.” Then I showed him how to check.
“Is it wet?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Okay then, let’s change it.”
“No.” he said.
“Well, that was not a question. When your diaper is wet, it is not good for your body. We need to change it; let’s get your diaper bag.” Amazingly enough he helped me carry the bag, find the diaper, and lay down to be changed.
I realized then that education and compassion were the keys. Two year-olds love the power of “no”, and I needed to be sure to ask them questions where they could practice saying “No.” I needed also to help them see that not everything is a question. I could tell that they appreciated the lessons because “no” ceased to be a problem after we understood how to work with it in a sensitive way.