IN THE WEST, our introduction to power and dominance comes early. Starting with our first moves towards independence, we learn our desire for freedom can be squelched by someone bigger, more powerful, even Goddess-like. Mom. She is the order of things, purveyor of “No”, steadfast in her exertion of Mother’s nature. She is the Queen of Toddlerdom.
Of course, a good mother doesn’t start out harsh. (And a “mother” can have any gender–it’s the role played that is essential.) She is initially affectionate, swaddling the infant in care and unconditional love. Even cleaning up poop seems to bring her delight. (See how she coos while changing a diaper.)
But around 9 to 16 months of age, when the infant morphs into a toddler, becoming ambulatory and indiscriminate in curiosity, Mother, the ultimate Transformer, shape shifts into her steely exterior.
No! Don’t color on the walls. No! Stay away from the socket. No! Don’t hit your sister. No! Don’t eat the cat’s tail. NO! NO! NO! NO!
According to one study, toddlers in the US hear a prohibiting “no” (or derivative) every 9 minutes–this after a lifetime of basic body functions causing celebratory attention. With a cascade of “no’s” comes the introduction of shame into the emotional lexicon, inhibiting actions and self-expression, teaching submission to forces more powerful than one’s own. Granted, the role of these “no’s” is to distinguish right from wrong, safe from dangerous, but really, who knows what’s going on in the youngster’s head.