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Toddler Tips

Navigating the "No" Phase

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 1, January-February 2003, p. 30

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My one-year-old says "no" to everything, even when she means yes. I'm getting frustrated and I want to help her get through this negative phase before she turns two. How have other parents handled toddler negativity?

Response

Somewhere between 12 and 18 months, my daughter, Victoria, started saying "no" to everything, even when she really meant "yes." She would be quite stern and serious when she meant no and more bubbly and cheery when she meant yes.

Victoria is now two and finally speaking "no" and "yes" to us. We always showed her how to nod her head (when she wasn't talking) and repeated yes when we knew her "no" response was actually yes. She did catch on quickly and uses the words appropriately now.

As with most two-year-olds, she can have tantrums. I try to speak calmly with her and do my best not to get into a battle about her saying no. I think that is the key. Try not to get frustrated because your daughter can actually pick up on your attitude and become more negative. I've had to tell Victoria that we will talk again when she can be more agreeable if she's having a tantrum. After a short while she calms down, climbs into my lap, and we can be more positive. It works a lot better than frustration and yelling and the lap time is very rewarding.

Jeanna M. DiPinto
New Britain CT USA

Response

At this age, children are trying out their newfound ability to use words and affect other people with them, not trying to make us angry. You can share your child's excitement and diffuse any negative feelings by using humor to respond to negativity! Using funny voices and faces, exaggerated reactions, even hand puppets or other props, you can diffuse the negativity while still affirming their newfound abilities.

Responding with more negativity (anger, frustration, or impatience) only makes the situation tense. Plus, laughing is said to release hormones in the body that counteract stress hormones and make people feel calmer and more agreeable. Each situation may be different. Getting dressed, for example, can be a big issue at this age. When my girls resist getting dressed, I use a number of humorous situations such as putting my hand in the sleeve and making the sleeve "talk" and ask to "eat" some arms or legs. When getting them undressed I make different sound effects for each limb that comes out of the clothing. Use your imagination!

Jennifer Crooker
Norman OK USA

Response

It's very common to hear a toddler use the word "no," but are they really being negative, or are they just asserting some independence?

Children learn early on that the word "no" has power. Adults often tell little ones "no"-it is the word big people use to get what they want. It is only natural that children be enthralled by the power of such a little word.

Negativity can be tiresome, so teach your child the power of using positive words. Phrases such as "Yes! You did it," "Yes! That's the way!" or "We can't do this, but yes, we can do that" are wonderful alternatives to using negative phrases.

Jean Welsh
Ashville OH USA

Response

It sure can be frustrating when your baby transitions into a toddler! One of the most important things to know is that her negative responses are not aimed at you personally. Remember, as she approaches toddlerhood, she is discovering her own individuality. One of the first ways that toddlers do this is to disagree with mother and dad and assert their own opinions. This is a healthy and normal process, although not always an easy one for parents.

I found that my toddlers' negativity decreased as mine did. It is amazing how frequently we say "no" as our babies become mobile and start getting into things. Many mothers find it helpful to use more positive words to redirect their toddlers. How about saying "Let's do this instead" or "Please be gentle" or "That's not okay." It may seem contrived at first, but if you do it frequently, those positive words will become a habit. If you need to give a firm negative, Dr. William and Martha Sears recommend saying "stop." It conveys the same meaning yet minimizes the number of times your child will hear the word "no" each day.

Another idea is to create choices for your child. Find ways that she can have a say in her life and make those exciting. Let her pick her clothes, her snack, the books you read, and the games you play. Allow extra time when you run errands so your child can explore the library and the grocery store without you feeling frustrated. Set your house up in such a way that things that you don't want your baby to touch are not within her reach. If all of the things in her reach are okay for her to play with, there won't be so many things for you to say no about. This may seem like an inconvenience, but it really makes life with a toddler much happier for the entire family. Remind yourself that there will be plenty of years when your children are older that you can have your breakables out on display.

Finally, remember that this is just a stage in your child's life. Take life one day at a time and treasure the wonderful things about this unique period. Try taking a deep breath when your toddler is especially disagreeable and think about the things you will miss from this age when she moves onto a less negative one. It will happen before you know it!

Tasha Galardi
Rancho Bernardo CA USA

Response

When my 17-month-old son says "no" to something I think he really wants, I take him seriously but explain the consequences. So, if he says "no" when I try to put him into his high chair, I set him down on the floor and say, "You have to be in your high chair to eat your bagel. When you are ready to eat your bagel, come let me put you in your chair." If he says "no" when I try to put on his shoes, I tell him we can't go for a walk until he has his shoes on. Usually he's ready to cooperate pretty quickly.

When he says "no" to something I think is necessary, I try to acknowledge his point of view without giving in. I say something such as "I know you don't want to get back in the car but we have to go home now," or "I know you don't want your diaper changed, but Mama has to change it."

I also present him with options, such as, "We have to go out to the car now. If you want to walk, you have to put your shoes on. If you don't put your shoes on, Mama will carry you." Then it's his choice, and if I end up carrying him, I explain that it's because he doesn't have his shoes on.
These tactics take care of most situations. The rest of the time, if he says no it's not such a big deal.

Cynthia Teague
Norman OK USA

Response

Your one-year-old is learning the power of words. It is very exciting for her, but definitely frustrating for you!

For a week or more, try not to say "no." You can say "Yes, later" or redirect your baby so that "no" isn't necessary. Baby-proof the house so you don't have to say no to an exploring baby. Put all small objects and breakables up higher. Go around on all fours and see what things could cause you to say "no" to your developing, curious child.

Read Barbara Coloroso's book, Kids Are Worth It, especially chapter three. It has some great ideas, mostly for older children, but it is never too early to put them into practice.

Ruth McAllister
Panyu Guangdong China

Response

How frustrating to have a toddler who always responds with "no." Now that my 19-month-old is in what I call the "no zone," I've found that weird and wacky distractions help us quite a bit. A toy just won't help my wiggling boy on the changing-table settle down, but a rolled piece of tape, sticky-side-out and stuck to his hand, just might. When he does his best to keep me from fastening the straps in his car seat, he forgets to struggle once he's got my spare set of keys, the ones he always tried to grab from me, in his little hand. Putting his clothes on the wrong limbs of my body, singing silly songs with sound effects, or letting him hold and examine tempting-but-safe everyday objects all help get my son out of the "no zone."

Andrea Kelly
Brookeville MD USA

Response

My first child was a "no" child, too. My husband and I learned quickly to stop using "no" ourselves. When a negative word seemed absolutely necessary, we replaced "no" with "stop" or "uh-uh." We also changed the way we phrased questions to our children. Instead of asking, "Do you want to take a bath?" we said, "Do you want to take a bath or a shower?"

We also tried to find a way to say "yes" instead of "no." For example, when our child asked, "Can I have a cookie?" we responded with "Yes, when you are finished with your sandwich" instead of "No, you have to finish your sandwich first."

Don't forget to praise your child as she begins to use positive words. When we gave negative attention to a "no" response, our children seemed to do it more. We remedied that by not paying much attention to the negative words and by paying a lot of attention to the positive ones. I know other parents who have taken this approach and it has worked for them, too. Good luck!

Donna Stancik-Elmore
Waller TX USA

Last updated Monday, October 16, 2006 by njb.
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