If you are the parent of a toddler you are likely familiar with one of their favorite words. “No.” Our daughter was right on schedule at just 2 years old telling me no. Distracting her worked best at that age since her attention span was much shorter. Now that she is 3 a simple distraction doesn’t seem to work anymore leaving me with few options other than threats of punishment. Not only does she tell me no, she yells it.
I’m well aware that every child is different and there is no one size fits all approach to parenting, regardless of what “the books” say. In general our daughter is a pretty eager to please child and she is empathetic so you better believe I use those qualities to my advantage. The biggest hurdle is having the patience required to not fly off the handle and punish her right away. This is particularly true when I am in a hurry, trying to get multiple people out the door, in public……basically almost all the time.
Step One: Take a deep breath. Seriously, then exhale slowly. This helps calm the initial reaction to yell or begin a battle with your toddler.
Step Two: Acknowledge what your child is saying no about. On a scale of 1 to 5 how important is it? Putting on shoes before your leave the house or taking their dishes to the sink? If it is a non-negotiable you can say something like, “I hear you telling me you don’t want to put your shoes on right now. It’s my job to keep you safe and running around outside without shoes could hurt your feet. Remember the last time you got a boo-boo? Tell me about it.” (Proceed to put on shoes while child is distracted telling you about the last skinned knee). Once shoes are on tell your child saying no to you is not how we talk to one another. It is not kind or polite and you know he/she is a kind and polite kid.
If it’s a lesser priority like putting their dishes in the sink for instance, you can try saying something like, “That is really disappointing that you don’t want to be a big helper. I was looking forward to doing (insert upcoming activity – even if it’s just playing play doh with you) but now we can’t have fun doing that because you are choosing to not cooperate.” Look and act disappointed and then ignore them and it is more than likely he or she will weigh the options and take it upon themselves to put their dishes in the sink. When that happens praise your child for making a good choice and remind them about using polite and kind words.
Step Three: Be aware how you tell your child no. They are beginning to weigh actions and consequences. Even though it may be frustrating and you don’t feel you owe your child an explanation it’s usually better to explain why you are telling them no. For instance, “We can’t paint right now because I’m about to fix dinner. I really like painting with you. I bet we can make time to do that tomorrow after school. What is your favorite thing to paint?” Use deflection and give them a choice that you already approve of. “When we paint do you want to use the brushes or the sponges?” It makes them feel like they have some control over the situation and also distracts them from being upset.
Step Four: At the end of the evening sometime before bed talk about what happened. If your toddler pitched a fit in the grocery store because you wouldn’t let her have a muffin then bring it up. Let them tell you what happened in their own words. Then gently remind them that is not the way we act in the store to get what we want. Ask them what they could have done differently. Sometimes this is more effective if you have your child tell their other parent or older sibling what happened at the store that day. Use other adults or peers your child looks up to in order to reinforce what you are teaching.
Step five: Sometimes in spite of our best efforts and infinite amounts of patience our children challenge us to the point of punishment. Every family has their own methods and we try a time out first. I try to remain as calm as possible and let her know why she is going in time out and when she is ready to apologize she can come out of time out. When that happens I always ask her what she is apologizing for so she knows. Good luck out there fellow parents. When all else fails remember that this stage will also pass.