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How to Get Around Your Toddler's Favourite Word: "No!"

When I first became pregnant, I was recommended by a friend to sign up for weekly newsletters from BabyCenter.  It was pretty simple, you key in your expected due date and you would automatically receive newsletter updates relevant to your stage of pregnancy.  Each newsletter was informative with stages of your baby’s development, signs and symptoms you should be experiencing, tips for managing the pregnancy and other advice on what you should be preparing for.

After the pregnancy was over, you get shifted to a new mailing list – one that offers you updates on what you should be expecting in terms of your baby’s development, milestones, etc.  I’ve found the articles to be generally pretty informative and useful – even if I haven’t always been diligently reading every newsletter.  Occasionally, a specific topic will catch my eye because it coincides with a problem I have been facing.  For instance, after all my recent troubles with Gavin and his Terrible Twos, what should arrive in my inbox but a newsletter titled: “Your 2-year-old: The Power of No.”  How very appropriate given what we’ve been going through…

This is what they had to say about those irritating “nos”:

Of all the words your child is picking up this year, it may seem like he has one grand favorite: “NO.” What’s the attraction? Preschoolers say “no” a lot because they’re discovering their own free will. “No” is a handy way to voice their opinion. (Sometimes they even say “no” when they really mean “yes.”) Sometimes a not-very-verbal child will resort to “no” just because he’s mad or flustered and struggling to get his point across. Your preschooler may also learn that if he says it loudly and forcefully enough, Mom and Dad will really pay attention … they might even go along with it!

Giving your child choices is one way to reduce the number of no’s you hear from him. Also, encourage him to answer in a quiet voice, and coach him in some alternatives: “What’s the opposite of ‘no’? ‘Yes!'” “You can say ‘no,’ or you can say ‘yes,’ or guess what’s in the middle? You can say ‘maybe!'”

Of many of the toddler management tactics I have learned, I have found the offer of choices to be one of the most effective ways to get my toddler to do what I want and avoid the dreaded “no!”

If he won’t take a bath: “Do you want to bathe upstairs or downstairs?”

If he won’t put on a shirt: “Do you want to wear this or a Thomas shirt?”

If he won’t eat: “Do you want your rice or your soup?”

Most often, I will get a response.  The key is to give only two options because toddlers are easily overwhelmed by too many choices.  If what you want him to do is something he resists strongly, then you have to sweeten the deal and make it easier for him to choose.  Alternatively, you can offer him the choice against something you know he won’t like.

For instance, if Gavin won’t go to bed, I’ll ask: “Do you want to go upstairs by yourself and play a little before bed time, or shall I carry you up and we can have lights out immediately?”  Usually, he’ll be only too eager to go up on his own because he hates “lights out”.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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