Almost every parent has been there. You are rushing to get out the door and say sweetly, “Okay, it’s time to put on your shoes!” Your adorable baby-turned-toddler suddenly screws up her face and stamps her foot. “No!” she yells loudly and then sticks out her chin, waiting to see just how you will respond. While a toddler’s “no” is a common parenting conundrum, that doesn’t make it simple to manage. Today we’re offering some tips to help you when your toddler says no, and hopefully to help you keep your cool at the moment.
“No” Is Important for Development
While it’s irritating and frustrating when your toddler says no, this stage is actually crucial to his brain development. As a child begins to understand the world around him, he also recognizes that he is a person separate from you. Along with this realization, he discovers that he can exert his will and change the world around him. Your toddler is curious about relationships and wants to test these newfound powers. When your toddler tells you no, it isn’t in the way that an adult would defy someone. Instead, he is conducting social experiments to see what happens when he resists you. This is great motivation to remain calm and loving while also enforcing the boundaries you establish. Once your toddler realizes that saying no doesn’t make him the boss, he will likely give up the “no” and move on to another exciting phase.
Empathy Comes First
When a toddler says no, it may be tempting to immediately enforce your authority. Unfortunately, this approach frequently encourages toddlers to double-down on the power struggle and just say “no” louder. Instead of immediately jumping to enforcement, try empathizing with your child’s point of view. For instance, “I know that you’re having a lot of fun and are sad to leave the library,” or “I understand that you don’t want to put on your shoes right now. It’s hard to do things you don’t want to do.” Acknowledging your child’s perspective often diffuses the situation. But even if it doesn’t, this way your child knows that you heard them and understand, which is extremely important for your connection.
Also, keep in mind that there are times when it’s okay for your toddler to say “no.” For example, the word might be a response to questions like, “Can I have a hug?” or, “Are you hungry?”, or a reaction to being tickled or kissed. In these instances, it’s important to respect your toddler’s decisions about their body. Other times when you should take a step back if your child tells you “no” include when they refuse your help with something. Give your toddler a chance to try getting dressed on their own or eating by themselves. Allowing a child to attempt new things and learn from the experience is important to their development.
Help Instead of Threaten
“If you don’t come right now, then….” We’ve heard phrases like this often, and if you are a parent, you’ve probably used them in desperate moments. When a child refuses to comply, parents often feel backed into a corner and begin to threaten consequences. One very useful tool in the toddler years is the word “help.” Instead of trying to force your child to do what you desire through consequences, assume that he isn’t yet able to comply without help. “Can you come on your own, or do you need help?” Using help as your paradigm often helps you remain calm because every parent desires to help their child. And it also assists your child by putting both of you on the same team. Instead of toddler vs. parent, the situation becomes parent and toddler vs. obstacle. This team mentality will serve you well throughout your parenting journey.
Teach the “Yes”
There are very few times in parenting where there isn’t a little room for compromise. Obviously, if your child is in danger, you want her to answer you immediately. But at other times, with less important consequences, it can be helpful to harness your toddler’s new independence and begin teaching positive ways to ask for compromise. If your toddler says no when you try to transition away from an activity, try giving her the words to say her desires well. For example, “May I please push my train around the track one more time?” By showing flexibility when your child asks politely, you are teaching good lessons about manners, compromise, the value of her voice. Clearly, compromise is not always an option. But when it is, your child’s “no” becomes a great opportunity to teach communication and social skills.
There is no magic trick that will convince a small child to do what she has decided not to do. At the same time, when a toddler says no, it is a part of the amazing growth and change she is undergoing every day. Remember that “no” is only a phase and won’t last forever. Take a deep breath and try to enjoy the sweet toddler snuggles and hugs that help balance out the harder parts of this stage. Are you looking for childcare to help you navigate these difficult parts of raising small children? Consider Legacy Academy Frisco, where we work to support the whole family in every way we can. Call or visit today for more information.