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Toddlers and Twos: Parenting During The "No" Stage

Two Year Old Behavior & Saying No

Parents of infants often long for the time when children begin to talk and can articulate what they need or want. However, once our cuddly, agreeable baby becomes a verbal toddler whose favorite word is "no," we may look back longingly to the non-verbal stage. Although the "no" stage of your child's speech development is often frustrating, it is also an important milestone for children and often a way for them to celebrate their newly found independence. Saying "no" is a healthy, normal, and important part of a child's budding autonomy.

The period of toddler development between 18 and 36 months can be a time of extremes. One minute children may be cuddly and cooperative; the next minute assertive and contrary. At this stage, children are typically beginning to feel their power. "No" is a very powerful word that gets adults' attention. Children enjoy trying it out, only to come running back to the safety and comfort of a parent or teacher. Sometimes "no" is used simply to see that words get reactions, and sometimes "no" is really "no." Toddlers and 2-year-olds are beginning to feel big and independent and are learning just how far that independence will take them. It's helpful to remember that toddlers want control over their environment - they want to be in charge.

Tips for Parenting Toddlers during the "No" Stage

Below are tips that may help you support your child through typical toddler behaviors and this critical stage of their development:

  • Establish predictable routines that are consistent and easy for your child to understand. Predictable routines and clear expectations empower a child to do what is expected and minimize opportunities to say no.
  • Think about how often you say no to your kids and try to minimize it. Modeling is a primary way that children learn. Instead of saying, "No, we can't read stories because you haven't brushed your teeth," say, "After you brush your teeth we'll read stories. You can pick two."
  • Explain the behavior you desire from your growing toddler. Turn a negative statement into a positive one. Instead of saying, "No jumping on the couch," explain "We sit on the couch to cuddle and read. The floor is where people jump. Shall we read on the couch or jump on the floor?"
  • Avoid power struggles and practice saying yes, except for when it comes to health and safety matters. Choose your battles. For instance, fighting over clothes with kids isn't a battle worth fighting. Before saying no, ask yourself: "Why not? Does it really matter if my child wears stripes and polka dots to school or rain boots on a sunny day?"
  • Make tasks fun when you can to avoid hearing "no." Rather than telling your child, "It's time to put your toys away," try "Let's see how quickly you can put your blocks away. I'll close my eyes and count." You can also set a timer: "Let's put the blocks away before the timer dings."
  • Validate what a child wants to do and let him know in simple words that you understand why he's angry or upset. Next, reiterate what he needs to do and, if possible, throw in a fun activity. "I know you want to stay at the park and play, and I wish we could too, but we have to go to the market. I’d like you to help me push the shopping cart."
  • Employ humor. "Let's see how many times we can say 'no' together and then say 'yes' together." Make up a song, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no … yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes."
  • Notice your child doing things right. "Thanks for picking up the blocks. You were so fast! Now we have more time to read stories." Positive encouragement and parenting build self-worth and also help your child understand - and repeat - desired behaviors.
  • Offer choices whenever possible. Choices can be as minor as "What song shall we sing on our way home today?" Allowing choices reduces frustration when you must say no.   

And remember, even when you have minimized your use of the word "no" and given your toddler lots of choices, there will be times when she digs in her heels and refuses. If you are at home, patiently explain what you need her to do and why. If a tantrum ensues, wait calmly until it subsides and offer a comforting, listening ear. If you are in a public place, you may want to scoop her up and listen in the car.

On the journey to adulthood, a child must learn to say "no." It is one aspect of an important developmental stage. So as you work to breathe deeply and remain calm, remember that even this "no" stage will pass - although it may resurface again when your child becomes a teenager!

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