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If “No!” wasn’t your toddler’s very first word, it was probably in the first five. For many toddlers, “no” quickly becomes their favorite word, used in almost every situation—even when they might not even mean it.

So how can parents deal with “no,” and what does it mean when your toddler says “no” to everything?

When your toddler says “no” to you, they are demonstrating their understanding that they have their own thoughts, emotions, and opinions. They begin to recognize that they can express themselves in a way that has a powerful impact on a situation’s result. By saying “no,” they are demonstrating incredible gains in their cognitive development and their budding independence. Also, take comfort in the fact that a toddler who argues a point is a toddler who is an independent thinker and not afraid to show it.

Still, this can be small comfort when you spend every day arguing with a toddler. Fortunately, there are some tried-and-true methods you can use to deal with your argumentative toddler.

1. Acknowledge the emotion. When you ask your toddler to do something and get a refusal in response, rephrase the request and offer choices. In this way, you honor your child’s opinion and simultaneously give him or her a sense of control by allowing the child to make an age-appropriate decision. For example, “Oh, you don’t want to wear the purple dress? I see. Do you want to wear the pink dress or the blue pants?”

2. Don’t use “no” as much yourself. Toddlers learn from their parents. If you notice yourself constantly using the word “no,” take some time to reflect on this. Are you being uptight about certain things? Reassess some scenarios where your gut reaction has been “No!” and see if some of these can be remodeled to “Yes!” It is best to phrase things in a positive way, focusing on what your child can do instead of what she cannot do. Instead of saying, “Don’t walk on the sofa,” say, “Please walk on the floor or sit on the sofa.”

3. Don’t ask questions that should be stated as commands. If you don’t want to give your child the option, don’t end a command with “okay?” For example, if the command is “It is time to clean up,” do not phrase it as a question, allowing your child the option to answer yes or no. Some things are better left as statements if they must be done in a timely manner. Other areas of discipline can be left to negotiation and include your toddler’s opinion (i.e., age and developmentally appropriate choices). Keeping messages simple to understand helps parents avoid power struggles with their little ones.

4. Don’t take it personally! Many parents tend to react to their child’s objections by thinking they are doing something wrong and that their child does not like them. If you have thought about what you’re asking from your toddler and they say no, don’t give in! By giving in too often, you send a clear message that your toddler has more power than you do. This is very unsettling for a toddler and can upset the family balance. Toddlers, just like us need structure and routine and look to us to set the parameters of what is acceptable and what is not. A mindful parent will discern when a toddler’s frequent refusals are due to overly strict parenting.

Reviewed by Eva Benmeleh, March 2020

Takeaways

  • It’s annoying to hear your toddler refuse things, but their individuality and self-esteem is expanding.
  • Instead of asking “yes” and “no” questions, try giving options to where your little one chooses.
  • Children learn from their parents, so try to use “no” less yourself.

References

  1. Janet Lansbury. What to do when Toddlers Say No.

Comments

  1. My daughter recently started saying no to everything!

    Reply
    1. It’s definitely a trying time- but if you see it as her way of becoming more independent you can build on that so that she can still assert her independence without necessarily acting contrary to your wishes. Good Luck!

      Reply

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