My Child Is Always Saying No!

Photo of a toddler screaming and covering her ears.

One thing that we as parents realize very soon is that children grow quickly. The “bundle of joy” is now morphing into a person, with needs, choices, dreams and an attitude. But sometimes, you suddenly realize that your toddler is refusing to do anything you ask them to do. Somewhere down the line, they became more confrontational. As we know, a lot of children are strong-willed, which is mostly a good thing.

From around 2 years old (or even before that), children are starting to explore the world, communicate with others and understand how social relationships work. They come to understand that things happen to them but they can also affect things and make things happen (e.g. make mommy give me what I want). With that, they discover the concept of power. They start by testing out the water as they probably know you are (or supposed to) have authority over them, as they still need you for most things anyway. As you can see, this is a normal step in their development and not on its own a reason to worry.

In the book by Dr. Elizabeth Crary, called “365 wacky wonderful ways to get your children to do what you want”, she proposes some really interesting and simple. Using some of these concepts,  I will draw some tips and also add my personal experience to help you deal with a child who always says “NO!”.

  1. Calm and confident:

    Toddlers are sensitive and can sense if you are stressed or angry, not only from what you are saying but by your body language as well. Being calm tells your child that you are in charge. Showing you are stressed by a toddler saying no might mean they have discovered a way to control you in some way.

  2. Avoid escalating situations:

    If you can prevent those difficult situations this saves you the time and effort. One of the ways to do this is to avoid surprises. If you are going out for example, let your child know what to expect, when you will be leaving, and what you expect them to do (start getting ready). You will need to repeat yourself and you will need to look them in the eye and make sure they got it rather than just throwing a comment while they are busy playing.

  3. Explain:

    Instead of rushing to make your child “obey” your orders, explain your reasons to them. Try to connect with them on an emotional level. Tell them why it is important to you and ask for their cooperation. Your child is more likely to cooperate if they think they are helping you and understand its importance. This ultimately depends on how old your child is and how much time you have for explanation! You probably don’t have to do much explaining for anyone under 3 from a discipline point of view. On the other hand, it is useful to communicate and prepare them for the change. Older children might tend to always ask “why” and get into arguments that you can never win. Do not get dragged into that!

  4. Offer them a choice:

    If your child says know, don’t go straight into argument mode. Discuss why you asked them to do something and why they are refusing to do it. Try to find alternatives and give them some choices, or ask them to come up with an alternative, the alternative can be a slight variation of what you originally asked for. Make a deal with them and try not to offer too many choices (I would say give 2 “safe” choices).

  5. Only say it when you mean it:

    If you yourself are saying no to everything all the time, they could pick that up, and also, your “no” will lose its power. Try to reduce the number of times you say no to your children everyday and limit it to things that are important.

  6. Are you listening?

    Sometimes, when your child is not listening, it is useful to reflect on your own behavior. Are you saying “no” to them a lot, without listening? Do you know why are they saying no?

  7. Don’t ask:

    It is much easier for your child to say no if you are asking them a question. If you know that there is a particularly problematic area or if you can’t really go into the “argument”, just say it as a statement: “we are doing this” or “it is time to leave”. That is not a request, it is a gentle way to communicate rather than giving an order “Go put your shoes on” or asking a question they could respond to with a “NO”.


I hope you find this useful. Please let me know what you think and if you have other tips/suggestions in the comments section.