What to do When Your Toddler Tells You “No”

What to do When Your Toddler Tells You “No”

toddlers readingNo matter how hard you may try to avoid teaching your toddler the word “no”, she will learn it and she will quickly learn to use it in context. This can become increasingly frustrating as a parent and you may find yourself ready to pull out your hair. Take a breath.

While it does not feel like a developmental milestone or a positive thing in the least…it is. By saying “no” your toddler has learned that he is separate from you and that he is his own person. He is exerting his independence and growing as an individual. Now as great as this may be for your toddler, it is still miserable for you. But luckily there are a few things you can do to make life a little easier on yourself.

Avoid Conflict When Possible

First, you can do your best to avoid conflict by tracking the instances when your toddler is most likely to tell you “no”. If it is time for lunch and she just started playing with her favorite toy, give her a five minute heads up that it is almost lunch time. Developing a solid routine for eating, playing, and sleeping will also help with smoother transitions from one activity to another. When possible, sometimes it is just easier to sidestep an argument with a toddler rather than engage full force. While preparing young children for the next transition in their day does not always avoid the dreaded “no”, it does allow them to feel a sense of security in a world where otherwise they are pretty small and powerless.
Offer Two Choices

Children Playing PaintingAnother tool that can be helpful when trying to avoid “no” is offering two choices that you are ok with. This becomes more effective as your children gets older, but it can still work for toddlers. You can offer the option of putting on the blue coat or the red coat before going outside. Either decision your toddler makes will be a good decision and ok with you as the parent. Warning: Do not offer a choice that you are NOT ok with. Without fail, this will be the option your child will choose. By offering two approved options you are still allowing your toddler to display his independence and to gain confidence in his ability to make a choice.

Look On The Bright Side

No matter how hard you try to not say “no”, when your toddler is just about ready to pull the cat’s tail or jump in a mud puddle with
her Sunday best on, you will utter the word “no”. When you can (and the poor cat is not in jeopardy) try to focus on and express what you would like your toddler to do rather than what you don’t want her to do. “Let’s pet the kitty gently so we don’t hurt him”. You can also use this tool to also offer explanations such as “If you jump in the mud your dress will get all dirty and we will have to go home to change instead of going to the birthday party”. Often times when children are offered an age appropriate explanation they tend to engage in the desirable behavior.

Reward The Positive

YPortrait of three little children with balls looking at camera aour toddler loves you and more than that he loves to make you happy. When your child engages in a behavior or activity that you want him to continue doing, REWARD him! Rewards don’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) cookies, candy, or screen time. One the most effective and coveted rewards you can offer your toddler is YOU and your hugs and kisses. Be sure to offer a reward in a timely manner following the positive behavior, toddlers have no sense of time and if the reward is too long after the behavior they will struggle to make the connection.

As I have stated already, these tips will not allow you to always avoid the strong and determined “no” of an independent toddler, but hopefully they will give you a fighting chance and at the very least maybe reduce your urge to pull your hair out.


Amber groves is a marriage and family counselor and addiction specialist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She helps couples, families and children to have the calm and peaceful life they want in their relationship and family. in her spare time, she is the mother of one busy toddler.

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