What to Do When All You Hear is “No” from your Toddler

It happens all too often.  We spend every minute teaching toddlers to talk and once they do, we can’t get them to stop! Around age one, first words will appear, just in time for toddlers to learn to express their opinions. The word “no” is often one of the first to be acquired and used by this age group.

If you are hearing “no” from your toddler more than you would like, keep this in mind.  First, as difficult as it may be to always hear “no” from someone so small, toddlers should be able to say no in acceptable ways. This is a critical step to learning independence and working collaboratively with others. Secondly, try to see things from your toddler’s perspective; assess WHY he is saying no. It could be he is tired, hungry or not feeling well.  Maybe he is just crabby (it happens to adults, right?). On the other hand, your toddler may be saying “no” because he is nervous or uncomfortable.  Or your toddler may be exerting independence and refusing simply because he can. To hear “no” from your toddler less frequently, try to address the situation first (i.e., give a snack, introduce the stranger, or allow time to adjust to new changes).   Read on for more ways to hear fewer “nos” from your little one.

What you can do to hear less of the word “no” from your toddler:

  • Indicate you understand his emotions and why. Then, explain why the given task is necessary. For example, “I can see you aren’t ready to stop playing with the trucks, but it is time to get ready to leave now. We don’t want to be late!”
  • Tell the child what he CAN do, not what he can’t do. For example, “You can put the ball in the bin.” instead of, “Don’t leave the ball on the floor.”
  • Give choices! Or at least give the appearance of choices. Allowing your toddler to have some control over the situation will go a long way to preventing tantrums. If bedtime is always a fight, allow your child to choose between the red pajamas and the blue pajamas. If it is time to leave the park, your child can choose hopping or skipping to the car.  If that doesn’t work, your child can choose to walk, or you will carry him.
  • Give advanced notice of transitions. It can be hard for your toddler to suddenly stop an activity he is enjoying and transition to a new activity (even if the new activity is preferred). Counting down from ten or saying, “One more minute then it is time to clean up your trucks.” will help your child be ready for the changes when they come.
  • Make it manageable.  If he is having trouble, make the request more manageable. For example, if your child is having difficulty cleaning up a big mess say, “You put these three blocks away, and I will put the rest of these back.”
  • Decrease YOUR “Nos.” If your toddler is constantly hearing “No!” from you, he will be more likely to parrot it back.
  • Distract and redirect. If the child is focused on a dangerous or unacceptable activity, attempt to replace the undesired activity with an appropriate one. For example, say, “It is not safe to run in the street, but I bet you can’t run to the tree and back before I count to ten!”
  • Be consistent.  Above all, it is important to be consistent. In order for your child to comply with parent rules, the rules themselves must be clear and enforced on a daily basis.

Keep perspective. Pick your battles. It’s a tough time, but it will pass and you’re doing great!  For more on taming difficult toddler behavior, click here to read here for tips on handling aggression in toddlers.