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The Life-Changing Word My Baby Just Learned

Photograph by Twenty20

Sometimes a single word can change someone’s life. And sometimes a single word can change three people’s lives, particularly if they’re parents and the word in question is “No.”

My wife and I recently reached this point with our son, Declan, who has long had a number of different ways to convey the idea of “No,” like the strangely regal way that he’ll move his arm dismissively to signal that, no, he definitely would not be interested in the bottle of soy milk being offered him, thank you very much.

Now, however, Declan doesn’t really need all of those different ways of signaling “no” because he now has that magical, amazing, enraging word that can, sadly, be used in almost every situation, and often is. Want to go to bed? NO! How about some dinner? NO! Hey, what say we proceed in an orderly fashion instead of zig-zagging into whatever direction is most dangerous? NO!

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Granted, as parents we have the power to veto that no, particularly when it's applied in random and nonsensical ways. We like to think we’ve got a baby genius on our hands, but words are still a new and exciting new development for him, and while, he, like Donald Trump, has all the best words (Elmo, balloon, hat), also like Donald Trump, he doesn’t always seem to know what those words mean. But being an intuitive little guy, I think he grasped that “No” was a word that was not like other words, and possesses a power that almost inherently alters the power dynamic between a baby and his parents.

Declan’s discovery of “No” feels like a game changer in our household.

Because in Declan’s mind now, "no" has suddenly become an option for everything, and even the amusement we derive from him authoritatively saying “no” to random things is leavened by the knowledge that in the months and years ahead “no” will be not just a word but a tool that he can use against us whenever he feels like it. He can push back against our questions and requests and pleas whenever he likes with the aggressive application of “No!”

I wonder if we’ve made saying “no” too easy for little ones. It’s a one syllable word that just rolls off the tongue and is simple and short enough for babies and toddlers to pick up as one of their first words. But if “no” were five or six torturous, difficult-to-pronounce syllables, we might be able to keep our babies and toddlers from harnessing its dark power until they’re at a state of development when they might be able to use it in a more responsible and reasonable way.

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Declan’s discovery of this word feels like a game-changer in our household. It’s another sign that his days of babyhood are rapidly coming to a close and the terrible twos are rapidly approaching. “No!” is a formidable weapon in every headstrong toddler’s arsenal of purposeful irritation, along with crying and stubbornly refusing to move. Thankfully, Mommy and Daddy are also able to harness the power of “No” and we have plenty of other words in our vocabulary as well.

Will we win the battle of no in the years ahead? Will we have the will and the strength to make our no count more than our son’s? Yes. Yes, we definitely will. About that, I have no doubt.

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