9 Ways to Handle "NO!" from your Toddler

“It’s time for the bath!” No.
“It’s time to get out of the bath!” NO.
“It’s time to put on clothes.” NOOOOOOO!

If this sounds familiar to you, congratulations – you have a toddler!

Okay. Toddlers get a bad rep in mainstream society. BUT here at IP, we think toddlers are pretty great.

Toddlerhood is an exciting time when children show us who they are. We get to know their personalities, temperament, preferences, ideas, and way of understanding their world. We get to see their personhood! However, parents are often caught off-guard with all this personality, especially when your once happy go-lucky baby screams NO and bolts off!

It can be incredibly frustrating…
But it won’t be for you. Not anymore.

We’ve got some great tips on how you can handle this situation better. Read on to find 9 things you can do after your toddler says “NO”.

Saying NO is a development milestone in toddlerhood

When your toddler was a baby, you were the one in control. You decided when they slept, ate, and played. You were the one calling the shots. They didn’t care what time it was or what they ate. They were too busy growing, sleeping, and exploring their world. But now they are toddlers, and toddlers have one objective: to develop who they are. Your toddler is showing you that they are growing and developing. They are exploring their world and trying to make sense of their place in it. Your toddler is showing you that they can make choices. Your toddler is saying “no” because they can. Don’t take No personally – this isn’t about you, parents. In toddlerhood “no” is a form of question: Who am I? How does this work? And how do I work in it?

Benefits of your toddler being able to say NO

Before we get to arming you with ways to expertly get past a “No” from your toddler, let me take you through why your toddler saying “no” is actually good for them (and your relationship with them) in the long run. By making it safe for them to oppose you…
  1. You are building their confidence to set boundaries of their own. When it comes to children, we want them to grow up to have a voice, stand for what they belief, own who they are… YET most parents deny any chance of building these skills. Imagine how powerful it is to have mastered standing up for your values in teenage years with peers or in adulthood with employers and significant otheres without fear.

  2. You are building trust and respect. When it comes to children, we want them to be honest and open with us…YET if we focus on beating down their opposition, there’s a very good chance they will distant themselves from us, hide things from us, or plain just lie to us. If our message to them is that we hold the power and their opposition isn’t appreciated, do you think they can trust us with their open, honest opinion? Well, maybe yes, but do you think it’s in a way of mutual understanding and respect? Probably not.

  3. You are building collaboration and partnership. just because you’re respecting their No, doesn’t mean you are going to say let go of your own boundaries and limits. Here’s the final benefit: “No” is the start of a conversation that can lead to collaboration. It is not a destination, but a potential to see how both your needs can be met. You’re helping them skillfully navigate interpersonal conflicts with all their relationships to come.

We need it to be safe for children to say No to us because it alligns with what we want for them and what we want for our relationship with them.

So if you’re ready, let’s explore how we can take “No” as an opening to collaborate with your toddler and help you side-step toddler frustrations and raise a connected, confident, and socially skilled child.

9 Ways to Respond to a "NO"

You heard the “No”, so now what? Here’s 9 ways to move past a “No” to get some cooperation to do the task (or not *wink* See #9!).

1. Acknowledge it.

Sometimes, just acknowledging the “No” is enough. “You’re saying No Food! You don’t want to eat. I see.” If the opposition comes from wanting your attention or for you to slow down a bit, this might soothe them enough and give them the time to join you again.

2. Look for the Why.

When you’re working with one word responses, it’s time to look beyond what they are saying to find what is it they DO want. “You’re saying no to eating. Hmm, I wonder if it’s hard to stop playing with your blocks. Let’s see, would you like to bring two blocks with you to the table so you can keep them safe?”

3. Make it playful.

Another great tip for those seeking some connection time. Play is the language of childhood, and it can heal and bridge gaps between you and your child. “The choo choo train is leaving the station! Next stop: dining room! Who wants to get on?”

4. Make it their choice.

Find a way they can have some say. If they don’t want to come to the highchair to eat, can you offer them a sit on your lap? Can you offer them a choice of sitting on a toddler table for food? Be honest with yourself: if you hate juggling them on your lap for food, don’t offer this. At the same time, don’t feel that one time will create a bad habit. If it’s not a problem, it’s not a problem. If it becomes a problem, then it’s time to revisit how to effectively set boundaries and limits.

5. Ask them to join in the task.

Lean into their love of wanting to do “real things” that you do. Ask them to participate. “You know I can use your help. Maybe you’d like to help me set the table? I haven’t gotten the placemats out of the dishwasher yet.”

6. Give them autonomy within the task.

“Do you want to be in charge of picking your cup for your milk? Can you help me decide which cup I should use today? Hmm, do you think we should have ice today in our water?

7. Give them what they want in fantasy.

“Yes I bet you just want to stay here and play all day. Eating is a bit of a waste of time in a sense. Imagine if we never had to eat or do anything else, and we can just play. Maybe it can be our super power!”

8. Acknowledge the disappointment.

If your child is not having any of it, chances are there are bottled up emotions at play. Think about it, 7 out of 10 interactions with toddlers is about controlling their time and behavior. Wouldn’t you have pent up frustration too? This was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It’s time to pull the lever and relief some of that stress. Allowing space for them to show their disappointment and frustration will help with regulation. “I know sweetheart. It’s not easy having to stop doing something. It must be so hard to be told what’s going to happen so often.”

Do not fear disappointment and frustration; it’s all a part of the human experience. Now you have a chance to help them build skills by sitting with them through these emotions instead of just trying to make their emotions go away.

9. Change your limit.

Yes, that’s right. Let go and let them have it their way. It might be strange to read this, but it is true. I often tell parents that they can just change their mind, and they look baffled. “But wouldn’t this just teach them they will always get their way with me?” Now, why would that be true?

If a limit is about safety, then that’s a hard stop. But if it’s one where you’d like your child to eat at this time because it just always is this way, but it’s an off day, then you have my permission to drop the limit (if you felt like you needed permission, there it is).

“You know what? I change my mind. You continue on. I will save the food and set out your snack early.” Not only does this show you are willing to partner with them, but it’s also a great way to model flexibility.

Bottom line: Both needs CAN be met.

These examples relate to toddlers, but you can apply them to older children as well. Keeping a lighthearted attitude, accepting the other person’s position, and staying closely connected always helps you overcome a ‘no’ from anyone.

There is always a solution that can meet both of your needs once you can tap into what those are. For them, a sense of connection or control? A voice or someone to hear them out? For you, a sense of order and collaboration? Your own need for control? It might not be easily tapped into at first, but if you remain in this space of wanting to partner with your child, the both of you will get there together.

If you raise your child in this manner from toddlerhood, you’ll have a teenager and young adult who trusts you with they are. Someone who can maintain their identity and respect others. You will have raised a collaborative, considerate, strong, and confident person.

What's next?

If you’ve read this far, then you’re probably struggling the toddlerhood stage. Our private Facebook group is a great resource for parents so you can find ease and joy in parenting while raising your toddler more intentionally and effectively. It’s a safe space to ask your questions about toddlerhood and to get answers to the millions of questions that come with the role of a parent. Join us and start enjoying your toddler more!

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