Turn Your Toddler’s NO Into Yes

Turn Your Toddler’s NO Into Yes

Dear Dr. Heather,

Our 2-year-old is so different all of a sudden – she says “NO” to all of the things she used to love! Last weekend, we asked her if she wanted to go to the beach – her favorite place. She said “NO”, so we went to the park instead – but then she was mad that we didn’t go to the beach. What gives?

Signed, Maui Mama

Dear Maui Mama,

I know it SEEMS like your toddler says “NO” to everything all of a sudden, but don’t worry – you don’t have a little Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde on your hands. If you turn on your “toddler translator”, you’ll start to decipher what she REALLY means.

Sometimes NO means, “YES, but first I want to finish my snack.” Or: “YES, but I just like to say NO sometimes (plus I love the look on your face when you get all bent out of shape, Mom and Dad.”) Or: YES, but as a toddler I am irresistibly driven to say NO, so YES – but “NO”. Confused? So is she.

See, the job of a 2-year-old is to gain some independence. But it’s scary to be independent — she feels safer when she has some control – and when she knows the limits. And limits are all about NO. So your toddler’s NO is usually her way of talking herself through a new, scary, situation — or one in which she feels out of control.

What’s an exasperated parent to do?

  • Giver her as much control as is reasonable. Limit her to 1 or 2 options, at this age.
  • Plan ahead for prevention. Expect that she’ll give you more trouble when she’s tired, sick, or hungry.
  • Give her a warning when the environment is about to change, so she can make the transition. “We’re getting ready to put on our sunscreen and go to the beach in a couple of minutes!”
  • When she melts down, let her vent. Empathize. “I know you don’t want to go now, Honey. I know you want to stay and eat candy. No candy today, I know you want candy. Yes, I know.” If she believes that you really understand her, she’s more likely to go along with you once she has blown off some steam.
  • Don’t be afraid to set the limit when it’s necessary. Children who have fewer limits tend to have MORE trouble when they grow up. Find the right balance between wishy-washy — and rigid.
  • And finally: Don’t take it personally. She’s just a shrimpy little thing – don’t let her ruin your day. BREATHE!

Remember these tips so that you can turn your toddler’s NO — into YES!

Dr. Heather Wittenberg is a psychologist who lives on Maui with her husband and four young children. She gives parenting tips on her website BabyShrink.com, and provides child development expertise for national parenting magazines and educational companies.