Toddler troubles: Surviving the 'no!' phase

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Unfortunately for parents the day will come when your sweet baby turns into a toddler who has just discovered the thrill of saying the word "no". Children transition into this phase around the age of two, when their brains are undergoing rapid change.

Don't worry – you are not alone in this struggle! Parents can take comfort in the fact that almost every child discovers the beauty of the word "no" at some point during their development. Fortunately it's just a phase. Children are testing boundaries as they work out exactly how much they can get away with. With the correct techniques, you can nip it in the bud and turn that "no" into a "yes!". 

Many parents may be wondering how their child could have transformed so rapidly but it's all a part of the developmental process during their early years! All children are different and will go through the "no" phase with different intensities depending on their personalities.

No matter how much your child loves the word, with the right techniques you can successfully make it through the "no" years.

Here are some tips for surviving the "no" phase.

  • Minimise "no" in your vocabulary. Leading by example and reducing your use of the word "no" within the household is an effective way to ease you child out of the "no" phase. If you find yourself often using the word "no" as you're immediate reaction you should reflect on this. Instead of saying "no - you can't have any chocolate," try saying "you can have chocolate after you finish your lunch." The more positive language you use, the more likely your child will be to pick up on this.
  • Avoid reacting. When you react to a word you give it power. It can be difficult to mask your feelings, particularly when your child first starts dropping the "no" bomb. While you don't want to want to let your child get away with disobedience, sometimes you'll need to pick your battles. If you ask your child to go brush their teeth before bed and they refuse, ignore them, don't react and try again in ten minutes.
  • Give them choices. Rather than ordering your child to complete a task, offer them a choice. Doing this removes the opportunity for them to say "no". For example, if your child is refusing to eat the meals you cook for them, try saying "would you prefer chicken or sausages for dinner?" By passing the decision over to them, they'll be more likely to eat the meal, as they will feel like they've played a part in the process.
  • Reward "yes" behaviour. While it may be a rarity during the "no" phase, when your child does occasionally utter that sought after "yes" make sure to praise them! Even during the most difficult of phases, children feel a sense of satisfaction when they please their parents. Rewarding "yes" behaviour and ignoring the use of the word "no" will reinforce positive language in the household.
  • Explain the situation. Often taking the time to explain to your child why they can't say "no" can help them understand that by doing so, they are hurting themselves. For example, if your child is refusing to wash their hands, you can try saying "I know you don't want to wash your hands but if you don't you could get sick and have to go to the doctor."
  • Be patient! It can seem like the dreaded "no" phase will never end but don't worry, it's completely normal and your child will eventually transition out of it. Generally children tend to grow out of the "no" phase around the age of three. You may feel helpless but it is just a phase that all parents have to deal with at some point during their child's development.

It's important to remember that this phase isn't a reflection of your parenting! How your child behaves towards you in the "no" period doesn't convey how they actually feel. Your child is showing the first signs of independence. You may forever feel like you are battling a torrent of "nos", but luckily young children have short attention spans and will eventually move onto a new word or phase.

Next time your fiery little toddler throws the word "no" at you, remember to relax, breathe and try some of these techniques.

Dr Anna Cohen is one of Sydney's leading child clinical psychologists. She can be contacted at Kids & Co.