What Young Children Mean by “No!”

Recently, I was talking with my three-year-old great-nephew Wesley.  Like many toddlers, he often uses the word “No!”  As I spoke with him, I realized that he may use “No!” to mean something different than adults do when they use this word.  I think that Wesley and other young children often indicate that they are having trouble understanding something when they say “No!”  Adults may not realize that some ideas or statements do not compute well in a child’s brain.

For example, Wesley said that his favorite television program is Caillou.  I replied that Caillou is also my favorite children’s program on television.  Wesley emphatically declared, “No!”  I explained to him that we can both share the same preference for a show.  He thought about this for a while.  I don’t know whether I convinced him that favorite shows do not have to be exclusive to one person.

Similarly, we were driving to a Peter Piper’s Pizza one night, so I remembered the old tongue-twister “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”  After I repeated this sentence, Wesley again said, “No!”  I told him that this clause is a joke.  Wesley asked, “What’s funny?”  I said that it hard for our mouths to say these words, and he thought about that, too.  I did not realize before that explaining a tongue-twister to a toddler would be so difficult.

We adults need to consider the difficulty of the concepts that we discuss when we talk with children.  We should not be surprised when they say “No!” about a complex or new idea.


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