When your toddler’s top phrase is ‘No! I don’t want to!’

Challenging as it may be, this phase shows your child is developing independence

When your toddler’s top phrase is ‘No! I don’t want to!’

Is “no” becoming one of your child’s favorite words? Congratulations! Your child is entering the important stage of developing independence and the ability to express their own thoughts and opinions.

Let’s talk about the word “no”

It may feel like your child is being defiant or challenging, but saying no is a normal, healthy way for your child to feel as if they have some control in their world. Your child may say “no” for various reasons including:

  • Simply getting your reaction
  • Attempting to assert control
  • Communicating what I want – my way
  • Taking charge and communicating what I am thinking

Avoid power struggles with choices

Choose your battles and avoid getting into a power struggles when your child states their opposition to your request or direction with a “no.” One of the best ways to avoid power struggles and deal with “no” is to offer your child choices when possible. When giving your child a choice:

  • Keep health and safety matters in mind, riding or not riding in a car seat is not a choice, however, who snaps the buckle can be.
  • Provide your child with two appropriate things to choose from such as a banana or applesauce for a snack; either one is a good choice.
  • Frame the direction or request in a way that communicates they have a choice. “Would you like to put your shoes on sitting on the bench or on the floor?” Whether or not to put shoes on is not a choice.

Giving choices communicates respect for your child’s new found independence. It’s an easy way to build your child’s self-esteem and reduce power struggles.

You may still get fussing and screaming if one of the choices isn’t what they want. It takes two people to create a battle of the wills, so don’t engage in the battle. Try to remain calm, use a soft voice and continue to provide the appropriate choice options you gave.

Encourage your child’s developing independence

Embrace your child’s stage of independence development:

  • Give your child opportunities to practice being independent by asking for help to carry something, put away toys or sort laundry.
  • Add extra time into your routines to allow time for putting on shoes or jackets, getting dressed or choosing what to eat first and what cup to use.

Being respectful of your child’s need to be independent can help you see this “no” stage as a time of learning and growing together.

For personalized answers to your parenting questions, call Sanford’s Parenting Line at (605) 312-8390 or email parenting@sanfordhealth.org.

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Posted In Children's, Family Medicine, Parenting