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What to do When Toddlers say “No”

By Eva Benmeleh, PhD

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?

Typically, the word “no” is a demonstration of your toddler’s power and growing self-esteem. When toddlers say “no,” they are testing to see if in fact they have power to impact the situation at hand. By saying no, they are demonstrating incredible gains in their cognitive development. First, they are showing that not only do they understand they have their own thoughts, emotions, and opinions, but that they can express themselves in a way that has a powerful impact on situation’s end result.

Despite it being annoying to listen to your toddler refuse every instruction you give, take solace in the fact that his or her brain is developing and your child’s individuality and self-esteem are expanding. 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 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.

Sources:

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

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