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The 'No' Phase: 15 Ways To Survive A Toddler's New Favorite Word

Every parent wants their child to grow up to be strong, independent, and assertive. The whole responsibility of a parent (besides keeping this human alive) is to raise a baby into a strong adult. Strong adults are those that stand up for themselves, know what they want in life, and fight for what they believe in.

That idealistic parenting is all well and fantastic until a toddler adds the word “no” to their vocabulary.

As soon as the first “no” is uttered from a child’s mouth, suddenly those big dreams of an assertive adult seem foolish. What’s so wrong with an adult who says yes all the time, anyway? Didn’t Shonda Rhimes write a book all about saying yes? She created TGIT, so she must be on to something.

Unfortunately, toddlers aren’t typically fans of Grey’s Anatomy, so they don’t know why they should want to follow in the successful footsteps of Shonda. All they know is that they do NOT want to eat those tomatoes, and they will continue to protest them until they are taken away and replaced with jellybeans.

A mom can only repeat the “it’s just a phase” mantra to herself so many times. So, here are some other ways to cope and survive the latest phase:

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15 There Seem To Be No Choice With Toddlers

One way to avoid the dreaded “no” response from your toddler, is to offer choices. If she says no every time you put a tomato on her plate, ask her if she’d rather have a cucumber or potato (sounds like tomato, maybe she'll try it now.) When you ask her this, be sure to show her both options so she can visualize each. This allows her to think about her best option and has a sense of control over what is on her plate (bonus: you get to ensure she has at least one veggie mixed in with the protein she will ignore and the carbs she will devour).

This approach will save parents from a few “no’s” throughout the day, and has an added bonus of teaching your kid how to make (sometimes tough) decisions.

If you’re finding options aren’t working well because your toddler is indecisive, The Baby Center suggests implementing a countdown of 10 seconds before telling her that you’re going to make the choice for her. Additionally, offer choices you think she will enjoy but that still get the desired result. If you want your kid to get in the car, ask if she’d like to get in herself or have you put her in.

14 Channel Your Inner Mary Poppins

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Remember the song “Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins? In case you didn’t have a childhood and never saw this movie, she famously says, “in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun!” We can’t all be mysterious magical nannies who can snap at the bed to make itself (if only!), but we can at least get our resistant kids excited about chores.

If he’s not into it, oh well, at least the shoes are still put away.

According to Offspring, the best way to get a toddler excited about chores or anything they don’t want to do is to use their natural enthusiasm to your advantage. Ever notice how if mom or dad acts excited about something, toddlers typically mimic that emotion? That is the power of influence. Not to mention, toddlers are easily distracted by something fun. So if, for example, that strong-willed boy keeps saying no to putting his shoes in the closet, simply shrug and take his shoes for him, and act super-excited about taking his shoes to the closet (super-excited = oscar worthy performance). Chances are he will be jealous that he is not doing this fun thing, and will jump right in.

13 Tell Them How You Feel When They Say No

You’ve likely already been identifying emotions in your kid up to this point. If she falls down but isn’t hurt, you might say, “oh that was scary!” so as not to elicit the fake-cry. If she is laughing hard, you’ve probably said, “that’s so silly!” These little comments are slowly teaching emotional intelligence and helping them learn how to identify their own emotions.

This tactic can also work when it comes to “no”.

If, for example, grandma sits down at the table right next to your toddler, and she starts yelling and crying because “no” she doesn’t want grandma right next to her, parents can respond by telling the toddler that it “hurts grandma’s feelings when you don’t let her sit next to you.” Depending on their age, this may still be a bit over their head, but it is teaching them that it’s not nice to tell grandma she can’t sit there and that they shouldn’t do things that make people sad.

In fact, Health Day suggests that it’s important to identify negative emotions to your toddler because holding them in will only confuse them. If you tell your toddler you are happy but you are crying, the two don’t align and will create more confusion than understanding. Health Day suggests that showing your toddler your ability to manage a negative emotion helps teach them they can do this too.

12 Bargaining With Resistant Toddlers

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Bargain….Bribe. Whatever you want to call it, sometimes it’s necessary.

Just like adults get incentives at work to go above and beyond, sometimes kids need them too. Does a grown-up enjoy staying an extra two hours at work? No, but the OT pay or $50 Amazon gift card makes it a little easier to manage.

Parents put it best as “toddlers love cheap thrills”.

They go on to say that there is a proper way to “bribe” a toddler. Because their concept of time isn’t fully developed, offering a reward for later when the task is now, isn’t very appealing. So, there needs to be some kind of instant reward.

If your kiddo won’t finish his green beans (even though you sprinkled butter, cheese, and all kinds of stuff on them to the point that they are no longer healthy, just to get him to eat them), you can set the iPad in front of him and tell him that if he finishes his green beans, he can play his favorite game, or call grandpa, or whatever it is that will work with him. He can actually see the iPad in front of him, so it will feel like the reward is instant.

11 Introduce age-appropriate punishments

After reading that heading you’re probably thinking, “my toddler won’t sit still through her favorite movies, let alone a 5-minute time out!”

Fair argument. Five minutes is a really long time for a toddler, so that means it’s a really long time for mom and dad to enforce the punishment. How about a 1-minute timeout? It may not seem like much of a punishment to an adult, but to a toddler, 60 seconds looking at the wall is equivalent to those last 60 minutes we spend staring at the clock until 5:00 pm on a Friday.

According to Parents, having a designated time out spot will help because the child will learn that if they are in that spot, they have to stand still. Also, set a timer for your kiddo to look at, this way he will know he’s allowed to leave the spot. Once the timer has gone off, ask him to apologize for his behavior. Not only does he get the punishment of a timeout but he’s also going to learn to apologize when he hurts someone’s feelings or does not follow through on his responsibilities.

Parents also suggest using short words and phrases with your child during these moments because he will likely not understand anything complex, especially if he’s emotional. Keep it short, to the point, and consistent.

10 Arrange Playdates

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Finally. The day has come. Your toddler is able to participate in playdates, which means mom gets to participate in “mommy play dates”. Mommy playdates mean mom gets to talk to an actual grown up, it’s just an added bonus that the other grown-up is likely in the trenches of motherhood, too.

Playdates are great for toddlers for so many reasons, but this can be particularly helpful during the “no” phase.

If a toddler is playing with her friend and she suddenly starts acting out, mom can use the other kiddo to her advantage by pointing out how well he is acting which may get her own kid to follow suit. There’s also the added “if you don’t behave we will have to leave” threat (even though deep inside you’re hoping you don’t have to deliver on that threat because adult time is almost as good as crying to “This Is Us” every week).

What To Expect does offer some guidelines for toddler-age playdates to avoid a problem far larger than the word “no,” such as limiting playthings/toys, choosing a safe location (like a park, or anywhere except your sanctuary of a bedroom), and stocking up on snacks to avoid the hunger meltdowns.

9 Ignore, Ignore, Ignore

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When it doubt, ignore your child. Toddlers love a reaction almost as much as they love an audience for temper tantrums. The more you argue with your kiddo, the more you’re letting him win. He’s getting all of your attention and all of your emotion. It’s a game to him (a really, really, exhausting game.)

Today’s Parent explains that in situations where your child won’t do what is asked, continuing to fight and giving attention can be misconstrued by the toddler for praise. In his mind, his action is getting a reaction from you so he has all the power.

Who knew manipulation started so early?

Some ways to avoid this “praise”, according to Today’s Parent, is to ignore the negative behavior entirely (of course, use common sense and make sure your child is safe). Once he starts acting appropriately, gradually give more attention. Then, once he starts behaving how you had originally asked him to, give him the praise he so desperately wants.

This is admittedly really hard to do. Chances are you will get yelled at, and if you have thin walls, your neighbors may hear and suddenly knock to “check in” and “say hi” (code for: we're making sure there’s no gruesome crime scene happening). Stay strong, mama! You don’t want to raise a master manipulator.

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8 If You Want Something Done Do It Yourself

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Toddlers love to act like big people. Whether it is “sweeping” the floors (or moving the already-swept-up dust pile to several new locations) or eating off mom’s plate, toddlers want to feel like they can do anything.

So, when that sweet little face looks up at you and says “no” to putting away her toys, take a deep breath and start doing it yourself. As mentioned before, you can feign excitement over the task, or you can simply talk about what you’re doing and why.

By explaining why toys need to be put away, you’re teaching your daughter that this is an expectation of her if she wants to continue to take out her games.

According to love.to.know, toddler-aged kids learn to do things best by imitation. A perfect example of this is a toddler holding a phone up to her ear and saying, “hello!”. They love to watch grown-ups, so parents need to walk the walk.

Eventually, this pattern will start to become a routine for them and you may get to, one day, walk across the playroom floor without dodging legos. Until then, suck it up and teach kids how to clean up.

And, don’t worry, your kiddo will go to bed soon, at which point you can go back to ignoring your dirty dishes until you’re good and ready to put them away (or until your partner can’t stand it anymore and does it for you- circle of life).

7 Act Like You're Leaving Without Them

The keyword here: ACT. Don’t actually leave your kiddo. Okay, now that the Parenting 101 disclaimer is out of the way….

This theatrical performance can be a really effective tactic if your child refuses to leave the park, house, school, car, or basically any other place he deems more fun than wherever he is about to go. As all parents know, the minute your little kid can’t see you anymore is the minute they want you most. Use this to your advantage.

Today’s Parent calls this move the “Fake Out”. Admittedly, this is a risky move meant only for times of desperation. This may get the reaction you’re hoping for, a crying child running to your legs because he’s scared mommy’s leaving him behind. However, it may also leave you with a kid still camped out in the sandbox calling your bluff. It’s a tough call, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Since kiddies are so much smarter than they seem, this tactic should be used sparingly. They will eventually catch on and the threat will no longer have its power. Then, you’ll be that mom who walks away from her kid and has to stroll on back to him to admit defeat in front of all the other moms at the park.

6 Ask Open-Ended Questions

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Sitting at the table enjoying morning coffee and chatting about the state of the world is not an option with your toddler, but conversations can be. Tots are learning language constantly which they demonstrate by saying a random new word seemingly every day. So having little conversations with them is a learning experience in itself.

If your little one is reverting back to her go-to “no”, try to change the direction of the conversation.

If you asked, “do you want a banana?” and she screams out “no!” a good follow up may be “what is your favorite fruit, then?” If she can’t say the word and just stares in confusion, that’s okay. Take her around the kitchen/fridge and let her point to what she likes. All of a sudden, there is a fruit selected for dinner and she has been distracted long enough to (hopefully) get out of the seemingly never-ending “no” cycle.

Obviously, this approach works best when you have a little wiggle room in your schedule and you’re not trying to rush out the door to get to the pediatrician’s office on time for an appointment. But, when you can sneak in a conversation of sorts, not only will you be working on vocabulary, you’ll get a break from the awfulness that is “no.”

5 Get On Toddler Level

Remember the movie Office Space? If not, stop reading this and go watch it, it’s a classic.

Anyway, in Office Space, the main character’s boss continuously comes up to his cube to inform him he did something wrong or that he needs to come in on a Saturday. The main character is always sitting in his desk chair and the boss is always standing up looking down on him. This gave the boss power over the employee, and the employee resented it.

The same is true for toddlers.

The best way to talk to them and reason with them is by getting on their level. That doesn’t mean throwing yourself on the floor and screaming, it means literally making eye contact and speaking to them face to face. The Guardian published an article that articulated this concept well, “with language skills [comes] a deep need for respect”. Children, just like adults, need to feel respected. Toddlers already want to have control over their lives and situations, so having a grown-up speak down to them only hurts the situation.

If you find yourself covering your ears to avoid hearing the word “no”, consider your reaction and your communication with your toddler. Demonstrate respect even if hurts your pride.

4 Sharing is Caring

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Game Show Host: “Toddlers love to share”

Contestant: Things never written in a parenting book!

When it comes to toys, the word “no” is almost synonymous with “mine”. Whether it is a toy, a blanket, a seat, a snack, or literally a pen your child grabbed from the restaurant table before you had a chance to sign the check, when he is asked to share, he will likely respond with “no!”

According to Today’s Parent, toddlers literally can’t understand the concept of sharing. It’s not that your kid is selfish, it’s that if you ask him to “share” his toy, he thinks he’s being asked to “give it away”. He does not understand that he gets the toy back. If it is not in his possession, it is no longer his. Which is why your old Ninja Turtle doll from the 90’s that your mother insisted you take to give your son is suddenly your favorite toy the minute someone else puts their hands on it.

A way to combat the “no” meltdown is to demonstrate what sharing looks like. Show him that by sharing it does not mean he will never see the toy again, it just means for a little while someone else is holding it.

When all else fails, remember he wants to imitate everything you do. So instead of “be the change you wish to see in the world” try to “be the person you wish your toddler would be”.

3 Treat "No" Like A Four-Letter Word

Once you and your friends start having kids, there will be a significant and noticeable change in group gatherings (aside from no longer starting the night at 10 pm like the animals you used to be). As soon as kids are around, suddenly adults remember to clean up their language. This is that time in life when a group of grown-ups can be heard saying “behind” and “shucks”.

The word “no” is no different.

Treat that word as if it were a four-letter-word that has been banned from the house (or at least banned whenever the kid is around).

According to Baby Center, if your child constantly hears you saying “no” to her, she will pick up the word and use it towards you. This is another example of the mimicking toddlers insists on doing. Toddlers don’t understand the command aspect of the word no (they’re not dogs), so to them, they’ve learned a word and want to use it in the right context.

Baby Center goes on to suggest that using specific words will help. So, instead of saying “No, don’t do that!” try saying “Please sit in your chair.” It is specific, direct, and simple enough for the toddler to understand.

2 Stay Calm - Namaste

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When your toddler starts saying “no” on a loop and eventually throwing a fit when you challenge them, be cool.

As mentioned, toddlers imitate (are you sensing a pattern here?) so if you lose your cool it will only make them act out even more. This also goes along with the emotional intelligence. If mom starts to yell, the toddler will think that the appropriate response to frustration is yelling, which will ultimately lead you to rock back and forth in a corner repeating the “this is just a phase” mantra over and over. Your toddler will likely see this spectacle too, so if you don’t want that fate for your child, it’s best to nip the whole scenario in the bud.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, staying calm is key when trying to calm your child down. In fact, they point out that if the toddler’s no streak is happening at home, to use the ignore tactic. However, if it’s happening at Target, instead of getting frustrated and angry at them because they are embarrassing you in front of your friends (what, Target employees aren’t your friends?), keep it cool and instead of ignoring your child, ignore the stares from the childless newlyweds who swear that will “never be their kid.”

1 If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

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There are times that you may not have a battle in you, and that’s okay. If the never-ending-no is coming after a particularly rough day and you know you won’t be able to employ tactics that will benefit the situation, maybe this isn’t a fight worth having.

If your daughter refuses to eat anything but leftover birthday cake for dinner, and you’re at the point where you’re seriously considering moving to the Caribbean to start a new life, just give in. One night of birthday cake dinner won’t hurt her.

At a certain point, channel your inner-princess to make like Elsa and let it goooooooo.

Any parent knows there are battles worth fighting, and there are a lot more worth losing for the sake of peace and quiet. Determine that line. If getting your kid to put away his toys is a nightly thing, then it may be worth another episode until he can get it right. But, if it’s out of the ordinary, it may be best for everyone to put his trucks away just this once.

If nothing else, at least stick some post-its all over your house to remind you of your mantra, “this too shall pass”.

References: babycenter.com, offspring.lifehacker.com, consumer.healthday.com, parenting.com, parents.com, whattoexpect.com, todaysparent.com, kids.lovetoknow.com, todaysparent.com, theguardian.com, todaysparent.com, babycenter.com, health.clelandclinic.org

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