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Responding to “No”


Written By Gracie Revland
May 26, 2021

Often your first “welcome to toddlerhood” comes with the “no” phase. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you’ll experience it more than once in toddlerhood.

toddler in jacket on the beach

Out of nowhere, it’s “no, no, no” to EVERYTHING. “Want to do your favorite thing ever?” NO! “Want to eat something delicious” NO! “I love you” NO! You get the picture.

First off, let’s understand that it’s developmentally normal. They learn this new word and learn that it has power that comes with it. Heck, sometimes they’ve known it for a while, and it resurfaces out of nowhere. Either way, how you address it can make all the difference!

toddlers running on the beach

Step one, let’s consider the why.

It’s important to understand where this is coming from.

  • Did they just learn the word?
  • Are they seeking power?
  • Did they notice the word gets attention?
  • Do they hear the word too much?
  • Are they simply just refusing, even when it’s not a question. (Typically seen in older toddlers, insert eye roll at my strong-willed threenanger)

Understanding the root of the problem is the first step in fixing it. Sometimes simple reflection as a parent can give you a lot of insight into the situation.

Step two, address it according to the why.

Just learned the word

If they just learned the word, it won’t be long until they realize the word’s power. It’s important here to not respond firmly or stare at your toddler with your mouth open, not knowing how to respond. Saying “no” in this situation isn’t them challenging your authority; it’s driven by curiosity. If you respond in a big way, it will only encourage the word. So stay calm, don’t give the word much attention, and it will pass.

Seeking power

No surprise here that your toddler wants power. Wanting power is a part of development and is often mistook as them challenging your authority. If this is where the “no’s” are coming from, avoid yes or no answers. The power of choice is significant here (I strongly encourage you to read that post for more info). If you say “let’s go inside,” you’ll probably get that “no” because they want that power, and it leaves you in a sticky situation. Instead, ask, “do you want to go inside right now or in two minutes? Ok, I’ll set a timer for two minutes”. Give them that power they are seeking while still controlling the situation.

Noticed the word gets attention

Whether it was from you or someone else, they have realized the power of the word. Once you’re in this situation, it’s time to do some undoing. The drive here is attention. Too often, negative behaviors are given way more attention than positive behavior without even realizing it. So it’s time to focus on those “yes’s” and following good directions. Praise for everything positive and give little attention to negative.

Hearing the word too much

This one is HUGE and happens way too often. Check yourself; how often does your child hear the word? Try taking it out of your vocabulary with swaps like “please stop doing that,” “that’s dangerous, so I need you to stop,” “I don’t like it when you do that,” or things along that line. You are your child’s example and if they are constantly hearing “no” then guess what will be their new favorite word. This was something we experienced firsthand with my nephew this summer. In a house full of adults telling him “no” he became obsessed with the word. After backtracking and having the adults use different phrases, we saw a difference.

Refusal when it’s not a question

This can even be in a polite way. My nephew melted me with his “no welcomes” it was the cutest thing I have ever heard. However, you’re at a standstill when you say it’s time to go inside, and they say “no, thank you.” It’s great because they said it nicely (and they aren’t being malicious about it, you asked a question and they told you what they wanted), but you didn’t intend it as a question. Whenever you can, try to give them that choice when you know they won’t want to do something. Instead of saying “let’s go potty,” say “do you want to flush before or after you go” power of choice can get you far.

What do you do when you find yourself in that sticky situation and realize you forgot to give a choice? Well step, one is to praise. Praise them for saying it nicely (if they do). Then explain that it is time to do whatever you asked but follow it with some choice “I know you don’t want to go potty, but it’s time to, but we can do it in a fun way, do you want to flush the potty before we go? That would be so silly”.

toddler playing on the beach

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Gracie Revland

Hi! I’m Gracie Revland •

One of the two mamas who created Supporting Chaos. It's hard to put into words how excited we are to grow this community of support! So all I can say is thank you so much for being here...