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When your toddler falls in love with the word "no," it can feel like you've run straight into a brick wall. Here are some tips from our site parents on how to get your child past "No!" and on to whatever it is you need her to do.
Offer limited choices
"We like the idea of giving choices within boundaries. For example, with our 22-month-old, if he says he's hungry, I might say 'Okay, let's have a piece of fruit. Would you like a banana or grapes?' That way he's making the choice, and either choice is a healthy one."
"'No' with a high-pitched whine is my 2-year-old's favorite way of answering any question. Then I try to change the situation for both of us. If the problem is taking a bath, I tell him he has a choice: He can either take his bath and play with his toys or go to bed. He chooses the bath every time. I think the answer is to give him choices that I can live with, but choices nonetheless."
"Another good way to get your toddler to brush his/her teeth is to get two toothbrushes. Then the choice is, 'Which toothbrush do you want to use?' It works like a charm with our 2-year-old."
"We generally avoid receiving a negative answer from our 18-month-old by not making everything a question. When it's bath time, I never ask her if she wants to go take a bath, I simply lead her up the stairs. For meals, she doesn't get a choice of what to eat. It's put on the table and if she doesn't eat it, she gets something new to try at the next meal. I think giving toddlers options sometimes allows them to assert their independence at the wrong times. I only phrase things in a question when I'm really willing to give her a choice."
Respond with humor
"My 2 1/2-year-old won't always cooperate – no surprise! For instance, I'll ask him to sit down to eat and he'll say 'No!' and laugh and start dancing around instead. That used to make me mad (okay, it still does), but I try to laugh back and say something like, 'What's going on there, Legs? You tell Bottom to sit right in that chair!' That makes him laugh and breaks his defiant mood."
"I'll ask my 19-month-old to pick up his shoes or his dirty clothes and sometimes he says no. Instead of pushing it, I start singing the 'clean-up' song, and he hops to it. I try to sing and dance around and show him what I want him to do and he does it. Of course, my husband thinks I'm a little nuts, but I've caught him doing it a time or two also."
"One of our strategies with our 2-year-old is to give him more attention when he starts saying 'no' to everything and make it funny. We ask him a string of questions, each more ridiculous than the last, to which he can answer 'no.' 'Do you want broccoli with mustard?' 'No!' 'Do you want peanut butter and pickles?' 'No!' Eventually he is laughing, and we just move on and do whatever it was he said 'no' to while his guard is still down."
Turn tasks into games
"I try to deal with stubbornness by making the task seem more fun. Going potty before leaving the house can be an endless battle in our home, so now we 'fly' our 2 1/2-year-old to the bathroom. By the time we get there, he's laughing and having so much fun that he's willing to go potty."
"It was always a struggle to get my toddler to brush her teeth. Three things finally worked for us, introduced in this order: 1) Raffi's song 'You brush your teeth' on Singable Songs for the Very Young; 2) watching us brush, without asking her to do it or letting her do it herself (magical combination of adult modeling and forbidden fruit, I guess); and 3) a fluoride-free baby toothpaste we found that tastes good and is okay for her to swallow."
"My 2-year-old would never cooperate at toothbrushing time. 'No!' she'd yell, and clamp her mouth closed, even when given her Teletubbies toothbrush and tasty kid-style toothpaste. Now I don't tell her to brush her teeth but to roar like a lion, as loud as she can. She loves doing this and doesn't mind that I slip the toothbrush in and give her a good brushing while she roars."
Use reverse psychology
"When I've heard 'no' too many times from my 2 1/2-year-old, reverse psychology always seems to work. I just say, 'Oh, okay then, I'll do it by myself.' He always chimes right in with that fierce independence and says, 'No, I will do it by my big self!' And he does."
"When my toddler doesn't want to take time away from her busy schedule to go potty, I say, 'Don't you go potty!' Then when she does, I say, 'Oh, you went potty!' and tickle her and make it a game."
Get your toddler's full attention
"When asking Matthew, age 3, to do something (get dressed, pick up his toys), we place our hands on each of his arms and look right into his eyes before asking him to do the task at hand. He knows we mean business! It really gets his attention and cooperation."
— Dale and Julie
"Our daughter is 2 years old and wants to do everything herself. When I ask her to do something, like get out of her car seat after I've unbuckled her, I give her some time to do it herself (a few seconds). Then, if she's not moving quickly enough, I tell her that now it's her turn, but that if she doesn't do it, it'll be my turn. If she still doesn't move, I begin counting to 10 – so she knows how much time she has. Sometimes I make it fun by speeding up the count toward the end, or telling her that the last time she did it in eight seconds, to encourage her to beat her previous record. If she still hasn't completed her task, then I tell her it's my turn and I move toward her. Usually that's all it takes."
"My daughter, recently 2, has fallen right into the 'no' habit, and she's very good at it. When she says 'no' to changing her diaper or eating or getting dressed, whatever it may be, I simply say, 'Okay, then, Mommy will go wash the dishes,' and I leave the room. It doesn't take more than five seconds for her to start calling me back, and then she's ready for whatever it is we need to do."
Choose your battles
"The 'no' phase is very important – it's the defining of boundaries for that toddler. Where do my parents end and I begin? How much say do I have and how much power does my 'no' have? It's been a really hard balancing act, but keeping that in mind helps me let go of the things that truly don't matter. So much of this is about my sense of schedule. If I say it's time to change the diaper, and he says no, I let him keep his dirty diaper. Hey, it's his bum – he knows how it feels in there. When it's time, he asks me to change it. He's a developing little person, so when it's not outright defiance, I like to relax and shrug my shoulders. Why do I need to get it done right then? I don't, and I respect my son's 'no' until it's an unjustifiable no, like boundary-testing defiance. After all, this is a benevolent and loving dictatorship."
Take advantage of "Me do it!"
"My daughter is 26 months old. She used to be eager to help us do things and would happily respond when we said, 'Mommy/Daddy wants to (do whatever it is), so can you please help?' Now that she's feeling independent and wants to say 'no' to everything, we say instead, 'Show Mommy/Daddy that you can do (whatever it is) all by yourself.' It works!"
Help them learn through teaching
"My 3-year-old eggs his little brother on to do things he knows they shouldn't, and he won't cooperate when we tell him to stop. So now when they do something like climb on the kitchen table or jump on our bed, we say to him, 'Can you show your little brother where we can climb?' or 'Ben, I need you to teach Alex the rules about jumping on the furniture.' Then he's proud to be the big boy who knows the rules."
Try alternate phrasing
"I have a very busy 3-year-old. When he says 'No!' to me, I try to reword what I said in a way that makes it sound better to him, so he'll say yes. Example: 'It's time to pick up your toys.' 'No!' 'Okay, do you want to vacuum?' (He loves to vacuum.) 'Yeah.' 'Then you need to pick up your toys so you can vacuum.'"