Tips for Dealing with the “No” Phase

One of the first words your child will learn to say is “no.” It is a very useful word for them to know—you no longer have to guess if they want more food or a drink or a hug—but, boy oh boy, do toddlers enjoy saying “no.” They seem to wake up each day saying it and then go to sleep murmuring it to themselves.

Rest assured that you’re not alone in this developmental stage. Read on if you’re asking yourself, “Why do two-year-olds say ‘no’?”

The toddler no phase

Experts say that this stage is typically between 18 and 36 months old. It’s often a time of extremes as the child begins to have some additional autonomy. One minute they may be affectionate, while the next minute they’re screaming “NO!” seemingly without reason.

And they love the power of the word. They’ll use it to get your attention. They’ll use it when they legitimately aren’t interested in something. They’ll use it for fun. They’re starting to be more assertive over their environment—that sometimes includes rejecting everything around them whether it makes sense or not.

How to deal with this stage

Luckily, you do have some tools at your disposal for getting through this trying time. (There is logic behind the old cliché of the “terrible twos.”)
Here are some things to try out with your child:

  • Establishing routines is particularly important at this age. When there are expectations, your child will have a better idea of how the day is going to go. They will feel empowered without feeling the need to say “no” every fifteen seconds.
  • Limiting the number of power struggles is also helpful. They’re going to happen, but ask yourself ahead of time, “Is this the hill I want to die on?” “Is this important, or am I arbitrarily setting a boundary?” Be selective when you need to be firm.
  • Try to make things fun whenever possible. Let’s say you want your child to pick up their toys. Instead of drawing a line in the sand (i.e., “You have to help, or you won’t get a snack”), make the task fun. Give the child a pair of kitchen tongs, and see how many toys they can drop in the box. Granted, it won’t be the most efficient work, but you are asking a two-year-old to do it!
  • Validate your child’s feelings. Let’s say you have to take your child to day care, but they want to go to the playground. You can say to the child, “I know you want to go to the playground, but right now we have to go to school.” Of course, this may still end up in a temper tantrum, but, in the long run, it will help establish a better relationship with your child.

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