As your toddler (1.5-3 years old) is developing and learning, they may begin to add some new words and behavior that can be frustrating for parents. One popular toddler word is “no” – and they will use it often and usually loudly!
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There is actually a more technical term to a toddler’s use of “no” – toddler refusal and it can present itself in many ways: “no”, whining when asked to do something or a tantrum.
A toddler does this for the simple fact that they can.
They have figured out that they are little people who can have an opinion and make decisions and one of the first is if they want to do something you are asking them to do.
Personally, when in my third trimester with our second child, our toddler went through a “mommy only” phase where daddy got told “NO! Mommy does it” ALL DAY LONG.
Being pregnant made it more challenging to physically carry our daughter (and mommy can’t do everything), so we had to find methods and strategies to get through to our toddler when “no!” was her first response.
These five coping methods helped us tremendously. Some days more than others, but that’s part of the beauty of the toddler stage – we’re all learning.
How to Manage Your Toddler’s Favorite Word – “No!”
1. Dig deep and find your patience.
It helps to know what is driving some of the less desirable behavior. In this case, as mentioned above, your toddler just figured out that they have some power over what happens to them.
Imagine how liberating and scary that would be. All your life your parents did what they thought was best for you and now if you are unhappy with their choice you can speak up,
Or you can say “no” to test boundaries and find the “line”.
All of which are important developments for a person.
Some days will be more trying than others, but knowing why your toddler is saying “no” often and to things they normally love to do will help you as they learn.
And when you know why something is happening, it’s easier to develop and maintain skills to manage it. So have patience and understanding for your toddler. This is actually just as difficult for them as it is for you.
2. Help them develop their vocabulary
You may be hearing “no” often because your toddler hasn’t learned the words to express how they are feeling.
A “no” may mean “I don’t want to” “I’m uncomfortable” or “I’m too tired”.
Having regular conversations with your toddler can help expand their vocabulary which in turn will help you understand what they really mean when they are expressing their toddler refusal.
Reading is of course a great way to learn new words as well.
3. Understand Their Limits
Similarly to my post on running errands with toddlers, it’s important to know your child’s triggers and what makes them refuse to cooperate more often.
Pay attention to your child’s needs. If they’re tired, hungry, frightened, stressed, frustrated or agitated, you’re going to hear “no” a whole lot more than if you had stayed within their limits.
If you want to try something new, wait until they’re at their best. Each child is different so for some it may mean mid mid-morning, after breakfast and some play or early evening before dinner.
Right after daycare pickup or too close to nap time will be prime “no” time so pick your battles around this time and re-read tip #1
4. Give them choices (or at least the illusion of choice)
As your toddler gains their independence, offer up choices so they feel in control. Make sure you don’t use open ended questions (ex. What do you want to do?) instead give them two options “do you want to go to the park or play inside with play doh?”
In the morning:
“Do you want to wear this blue shirt or this yellow shirt today?”
“Do you want a sandwich or crackers and cheese?”
At the grocery store:
“Do you want to sit in the cart or carry the basket?”
You get the idea, giving them choices means less battles for you.
5. Provide structure/give them less surprises
Seeing my daughter interact with her teachers at daycare always interested me. She would come into her classroom, sit in her designated chair and wait for breakfast.
Or come inside, take her shoes off on the mat, go to the inside shoe box and find and put on her shoes.
It always looked like her teachers had a power over her. They didn’t yell or threaten, they just had such a powerful routine that it didn’t give the toddlers a chance to push back. It was time for them to do xyz. So they did it.
One of the best ways for you to help your child adjust successfully into this new stage is to provide them with structure. Help them know what to expect. When they have structure, they’re much better behaved and you’ll have fewer battles.
At home of course, we parents are much more accommodating. “Oh you don’t want this? Ok how about this? Or this?”
Take a page out of the early childhood educators handbook and offer your toddler just as much structure when they’re home with you.
So they know it’s breakfast, then play, then snack, then outside, then nap, etc.
You’ll have less battles and they will also understand what the consequences are in you’re consistent.
Conclusion: Strategies for dealing with Toddler Refusal
To learn more tips on communicating with your toddler, check out these posts:
And pick up a few toddler parenting books to help you get through this stage. These are our favorites + one book on toddlers from a humorous perspective (because sometimes you just need a laugh)
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind
New York Times Best Seller: A practical book that provides age appropriate strategies to dealing with day to day struggles
How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7
This book is an essential manual of communication strategies for ages 2-7