The Will of a One Year Old

I’ve noticed something different in Nico as of late. It is related to the fact that she now knows how to say “no,” or at least to shake her head. It is also related to the fact that she’s begun to reject spinach and lentils, among a few other super healthy foods that she used to eat with gusto.

Nico has developed human will.

As Merriam-Webster reminds us, will is “a strong desire or determination to do something” or “a person’s choice or desire in a particular situation.”

We were back in Iowa City this past week and I went to visit a friend who recently had a baby. Her baby is about two weeks old now and a boy. Super cute. Super small. Super will-less. Granted, he has needs. Lots of them. And sitting there with my friend, Nico in my lap and her new son in her arms, I had a visceral memory of those days after Nico was born, when all our energy went into meeting those basic needs she had: for sleep, for food, for quiet, for relief from gas, etc. It was exhausting and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so fragile for such a prolonged period of time.

Managing a one-year-old’s will is something else entirely. Yes, she still has those basic needs and those are getting easier and easier to meet. I know when she’s just pooped because her eyes always water when she does and she sort of holds her breath. I know when she’s hungry or tired. She literally rubs her eyes for the latter, which is an almost comically helpful cue.

But I don’t know what to do (yet?) when she really really wants that blue sippy cup, even though the water in it is all gone and she’s frustrating herself because she can’t actually access any of the water she wants to sip, but she wants to keep trying vainly to sip for-EV-er and she wants that sooooo bad and sooo hard that she will scream with the strength of an elephant when I try to take it away from her.

Or less dramatic.

She just decides she no longer likes spinach. She decides she doesn’t want to wear shoes. Ever. Or a hat. Or–on the positive side–decides that her cousins (who we also saw in Iowa City) are the coolest creatures to ever walk this earth. She decides. She decides. She decides.

And yet, as parents we often have no idea why she is deciding for one thing or against another. We can’t talk to her about her decisions, about her sudden showing of will. I’m not sure she even entirely understands what shaking her head means. She’ll shake it with such confidence, but then she’ll keep shaking it when I ask something like, “quieres comer?” Which means “would you like to eat?” And the answer to that, I can assure you, is always yes.

Nico loves to eat.

Part of me is really heartened to see this little will emerging, because it seems like the first real inklings of a personality. And I can already tell that Nico is going to have a fiercely bright personality. But on the other hand, it frustrates the hell out of me. Especially when Nico’s will butts heads with my will. Like when I want her to wear a hat or eat spinach. And she just won’t.

And, unfortunately, while children develop their own wills relatively early, it takes the a lot longer from them to understand reason. Which is where we are now. And probably will be for another couple, three years.

On a happier and likely related note, Nico has also begun to stand on her own. She did so for the first time at a restaurant called Nodo in Iowa City. Here’s the video of our little obstinada:

6 thoughts on “The Will of a One Year Old

  1. So cute! Nico looks so very proud to be standing. Re: her will, it’s fortunate that neither of her mooms have strong wills…..


  2. Here”s my advice, gleaned from a lifetime of not raising kids. Never use the word no; couch everything in terms of yes. (Actually, I read this in a book, but it stuck with me.) If she wants to go outside and play, don’t say, “No, you can’t go outside until you eat your spinach:. Instead, say: “Yes, you can go outside once you eat your spinach.” Soon she’ll see the world in terms of yes, and your child-rearing duties will be much easier. Thank you.


      • I get wiser as kids get older too. Nico’s personality is now totally formed, and I think we should start thinking about college and stuff like that.


  3. Isn’t it funny how strongly against something all of a sudden? When Linnea started drinking milk, she never took a drop of formula again. I don’t know how she knows without tasting but she won’t get near a bottle of formula. She knows when we are apprehensive about trying a new food with her. Those babies, so perceptive!


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