Toddler Refusal - Saying 'NO' all the way

Our kids are changing all the time. The transitions start happening right after they are born. Every little thing they do shapes their personality and makes for another developmental milestone. The first time they smile, sit, crawl, walk, talk etc. add to their list of adventures that help them to adapt to the world around them.

As a mother of two young boys, I have been particularly fond of their toddler years. I feel it is the most exciting time to enjoy with a child, when their personality begins to shine through. It is when they become keen explorers, commanding bosses, tantrum throwers, passionate role players or simply lovable characters. They can be anything and everything and sometimes no weapon in your armoury will work.

My boys are nearly four and a half and two years old. Their traits seem quite apart at most times but there is a common quality that is associated with their toddler phase. And that is saying “NO”. It seems to have become my toddler’s favourite word.

I tell him not to shout and, instead, it brings out the beast in him as he goes “Nnnoooooo”. The volume goes through the roof as my older son joins him. When advised on not ruining his clothes, he quickly dismisses it with a “No” and continues unaffected. It is particularly hard to close the TV, the mention of which is followed by sobbing “No no no”s. If I cuddle and praise my older one, he becomes irritated, defensive and upset and goes “No, BAD mummy”.

I noticed this with my older child but didn’t think much of it at that time. But the naysaying is repeating itself in my younger one and is hard to ignore. The word rules our daily routine evoking anger, disagreement and laughter in equal measure in our little one.  

Do you want to put on your sandals? He answers with an emphatic “No” as he seems to hate them for no reason.
Do you want to play inside the house? He responds with a soft “No” expecting to be taken out to the playground, which he totally loves.
Isn’t he a good big brother? A categorical “No, bad boy” is usually the answer, especially when the boys have been playing together with the same toy.
Let’s say good-bye to the garden and go inside the house. “No, good-bye hou(se)”, he comes back with a vengeance.
You need to say sorry to your big brother for pushing him. With a short and strong “No”, it’s hard to miss the point.


After looking up for more information on ‘toddler refusal’, I have come to understand that it his way of exercising control and gaining confidence in doing so. On some occasions, he is perhaps repeating what he hears from us as we communicate with him everyday. 

As kids grow up, they learn to define boundaries with respect to what constitutes acceptable behaviour. They try and test it by overreaching those boundaries when, they are met with our disapproval, in the form of a “No”. It is a continuous learning process where they encounter a fair amount of disapproval in everyday life. Saying “No” themselves is merely reflecting the same disapproval, especially as they have a limited vocabulary during early years. Saying no is considered a normal and healthy way for them to exercise control and feel confident about asserting their authority. Their newfound defiance is a key to self-awareness.

However, there may be some coping strategies in case it begins to feel out of hand. I usually offer choices to my son asking him to choose between shoes v/s sandals, apples v/s grapes, buggy v/s scooter etc. He seems to like the idea of choosing and feels contended when his choice is considered.

Sometimes I use the example of his older brother playing a certain game or eating a certain food. His competitive streak kicks in and he agrees to go with the same choice. At other times I choose to sing his favourite songs, getting the job done alongside. So, he doesn’t normally notice if he has been offered a different coloured chalk for drawing if he was busy listening to my song. Sometimes the techniques work, sometimes don’t. But no technique can really be fool proof when negotiating with a toddler.

I am also guilty of using temptations and fake promises of candies or crisps to come out of some embarrassing situations, especially in public places. It is hard to get them off swings and slides and sometimes nothing works but the lure of a lolly. What happens later is a different story.

I understand that toddler refusal is a phase that doesn’t last forever. As he learns more words and understands that his choices are appreciated, he should get over it. Until then, there will be times when I will have to pull rank and take a stand. And there will be times when I will just have to let it be. The objective is to help him understand the way the world works and gaining confidence in the process.

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