By Dr. Caron Goode
One of most frustrating stages of toddlerhood can be when a child learns to master the word “no.”
Between the ages of 15 and 30 months, a toddler begins to realize that he is a separate person from his parents; a person who has his own will and his own mind. As this realization sets in, a child begins to discover his independence and begins to practice asserting this independence to all who will listen. It’s this stage of development that is usually marked by a child singing a seemingly continuous chorus of a loud and proud “no.”
Although on the surface it may seem that the child is being defiant and difficult, a young child who is constantly saying “no” is in a monumental phase of early childhood development. When parents aren’t coached to recognize this stage for what it is, the result can be frequent power struggles between parent and child.
While it’s important for a child to understand that the parent is the person of authority, it’s also important to let a child engage in self discovery by allowing him to assert his feelings and to learn that it can be okay to say no. At this stage of development, when vocabulary is limited, a toddler often doesn’t have other expressions to show his displeasure, so inevitably “no” becomes his simple favorite.
Coaching parents through this natural and important stage of development can help them deal with the frustrations that can come when regardless of what they ask their child, the response that they get is an unmistakable “no.”
So how can parents navigate this important developmental stage? Here are 10 techniques for coaching kids through the contrary stage:
- Give the child two choices that you can live with. This is a time when the child is learning to make choices and you can help by giving him limited choices that won’t overwhelm him. Instead of asking the child if they want cereal for breakfast, ask if they want Cheerios or Rice Crispies.
- Offer the child choices, but if he doesn’t make a choice, let him know that you will make the choice for him. Instead of asking the child to get dressed, ask if he wants to put on his shirt or pants first. If he doesn’t choose, choose for him and help him get dressed. This provides an opportunity for self discovery balanced with parental authority. Your goal is to convey the message that the choice you make is yours, but making a choice is not optional.
- Set limits. Toddlerhood can be a time of testing. Kids will push the boundaries and say no as long as they are allowed to.
- Limit your use of no. Look for alternative ways that convey no. This will help to build your child’s vocabulary and can squelch the theory that children say what they hear. Instead of saying “No hitting” opt for alternatives like “We don’t hit” or “Hands aren’t for hitting.”
- Pick your battles. It’s a good thing when a child feels that it is safe to say no, so when it’s reasonably acceptable, allow his no to stand. Perhaps he doesn’t want a midday snack. Don’t fight about it. Let him learn about making choices and living with the consequences of his choices.
- Don’t laugh when a child says no. As cute as it may be the first time, resist the urge to laugh. It only reinforces the behavior.
- Avoid giving the child the opportunity to say no. If you need your child to get his shoes, suggest a race to the door. Sometimes it just takes a bit of creative thought to get your child to cooperate. Offering limited choices also takes away the opportunity to say no.
- Use diversion. Having a childproofed house and anticipating any opportunities where your child may say no can go a long way in limiting the amount of “no’s” that you hear from your child. You won’t have to tell him “Put the vase down” if it’s not on the table.
- Use distraction. Children under 2 can be easily distracted. If they are playing with an item that you want them to give up, offer an alternative. If you’re trying to get an uncooperative kid out of the house, give him something to investigate outside so he’ll come along.
- Keep a positive attitude. Remember this phase is temporary. Look at this stage as an intense time of development and help your child maximize his learning experience.
While it can be frustrating for parents who are dealing with a child in the “no” phase, when parents are educated and coached through this stage of development, frustrations can be limited and parents can help their children continue to develop healthy, whole and developmentally on track.
Biography: Caron Goode's (EdD) insights are drawn from her fifteen years in private psychotherapy practice and thirty years of experience in the fields of education, personal empowerment, and health and wellness. She is the author of ten books (www.inspiredparenting.net) and the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents,(www.acpi.biz) a training program for parents & professionals who wish to mentor other parents.