It was Christmas Eve at my aunt’s house where a typical scene played out. Sugar-rushed kids blazed through rooms, playing with new toys and laughing with cousins while moms, dads, aunts and uncles all gathered near. My 5 year old nephew and I engaged in a tickling contest that lead to a serious realization on my part. “Stop it!” he laughed as I used my martial arts skills to perform the best takedown I could on the squirmy little 5 year old. “Noooo!” he giggled more as he squirmed to get away. When I let him go, he jumped on me and the whole thing started over again.

At this point, I had been putting a substantial amount of thought and research into consent education as well as boundary setting for children as young as preschool. In the midst of this Christmas Eve tickle session I had a moment of realization…”am I part of the problem?” Am I not only teaching this child that his “no” doesn’t mean “no” but that if someone else tells him “no” that they don’t actually mean it? Could it be little instances like this that lead to bullying at younger ages and sexual assault at more mature ages? More importantly though, I began to question whether or not there was anything that I could do about this perceived issue. Could I educate parents that when a child says “no” that they really mean it? Or could I teach children that when they do mean it, to yell it, showing that they are, in fact, serious?

I began to research the topic of tickling and my findings varied from information that points parents to simply remove this type of play from their household to information that guides parents to believe that tickling is primal and bonds parents and children together. In addition, I became interested in the word “no” and it’s meaning for young children. According to a study at UCLA, children hear the word more than 400 times per day. Four HUNDRED times per day. Not only that, the word “no” has different meanings in different situations. When some children are told “no” by parents, it may mean “no for right now”, “no because I’m not paying attention to your question” or even “no, but if you keep asking it will turn into a yes”. If children are being conditioned to be insensitive to the word “no” why are we not using a different word, phrase or symbol to show seriousness as well as a demand for an action to stop?

Thankfully, I’m seeing some great phrases being used in preschool settings that give me hope for the future. “I don’t like that” is a common phrase that I hear my students say to each other in times of conflict. What I love about the “I don’t like that” statement is that is goes so far beyond the word “no” and actually answers the “why” behind the no. “No.” “Why?” “Because I don’t like that”. Using this simple phrase in homes and classrooms can lead to conflict resolution as well as boundary settings that can stick with children for life. Here are some great ways to incorporate these things into your household and/or classroom. Enjoy!

Household:

Say: Did I ever tell you about the time….(great opportunity to totally make something up OR go with this easy story)…when I was wrestling with (brother, sister, friend, etc) and it started to hurt. I said “no!” and “stop!” but they didn’t stop. But when I said “I DON’T LIKE THAT” guess what happened? They stopped!

Say: Lets have a wrestling match! But, whenever you want it to end, all you have to do is say “I don’t like that” and I will stop. I will also say “I don’t like that” when I want it to stop.

Do: Tackle, tickle or wrestle with your child in a way that you normally would. If your child does not say “I don’t like that” use this as an opportunity to say it yourself at some point in your wrestling match.

Say: See how easy it is to get something to stop? You can do this anytime at home or at school when someone is doing something to you and you want it to stop. If someone keeps doing it though, it is time for you to find me or a teacher. You can always walk away from someone that won’t stop something that you told them that you don’t like. Want to try it again?

Classroom:

Say: Who can be loud in here? (raise your hand) We are going to talk about using our voices to stop our friends from doing things that we don’t like. If someone is doing something to you that you don’t like, I want you to use your Tiger voice. Did you know that Tigers have a very loud ROAR? It’s how Tigers stop people from doing things that don’t want. So lets practice this together. Pretend that I am poking you with my pencil and you want me to stop. You can say “stop” like a quiet little mouse OR you can say “I DON’T LIKE THAT” like a loud Tiger. Which do you think will get your friend to stop? Lets try it together and be as loud as Tigers- “I DON’T LIKE THAT”. If your friend keeps doing the thing that you don’t like, please come and find me and we will have a talk with them.