Alternatives for Saying “No” to Your Toddler

messy toddler

Teach your toddler what to do, instead of telling him what not to do. 

“No” is so easy to say, which is probably why it is so over used, making the severity of it seem not so severe. It gets used when our toddler tries to put something in her mouth, when she wants a cookie for breakfast, when she tries to climb on the table, when she attempts to draw on the sofa with a marker, and when she runs wildly through the house. There’s a danger in lessening the value of “No,” because sometimes, when you have moments when you really mean it, like when your two year old toddles into the street, your panicked “NO!” has no effect on your little one – simply because she’s built up an immunity to it. While your little one is still little, you should practice refraining from over-using “no.”

Treat your little one to an environment where you don’t have to use “no.” A curious, little toddler loves to get into everything, so teach him that some things are fine to explore, and some things are not. Tell him that certain cupboards are off limits, but allow him to satiate his curiosity by allowing him a special, safe cupboard (or boxes, buckets, drawers) to explore. Take him outside where he can run around and use his loudest outside voice.

{ MORE: How to Stop Toddler Aggression }

Redirecting your toddler’s attention is an indirect way to say “No.” If she is doing something that she’s not suppose to be doing, like squirting lotion all over the carpet, instead of telling her no, teach her that lotion is for skin. Rub the lotion on her legs and arms, have her help you put it away, and then remove her from the scene to a different one, where she can play with her toys or with you.


What do you think?

Alternatives for Saying “No” to Your Toddler

Tell us what you think!


  1. melissa says:

    Daughter is 15 MO and says NO often just to say it. Is it too late to change this?

    • Megan Klay says:

      Absolutely not! Just do your best to use alternate words yourself and hopefully she will catch on. You can also try to suggest different words for her to say when she says no, and/or ask her why she is replying to you with no to try to get her to use more words to express her feelings. Toddlers are learning boundaries, and often they’re just exercising their will when using the word, ‘no’! It will hopefully just be a phase. 🙂

  2. Tiffany says:

    I work with parents in the home on parenting skills etc and one method I have found to be effective (both professionally and personally) is the Flip It method. It is basic and is geared forward younger children (8 and under). Using this method helps your child learn to identify feelings, learn empathy (telling a child they HAVE to apologize teaches them nothing), it reminds us that kids have bad days too (like us adults – when I have a bad day, feel sick, am tired etc I struggle with things too.) I think we forget that our children have stressors as well. We expect so much of them and forget how little and young they are and how much they still have to learn. Imagine if we all put the same level of expectations on ourselves as we do our children. We, (parents, guardians, adults) need to give children (especially toddlers) a break.

  3. Haley says:

    We use No ma’am. My daughter is stubborn. She knows not to do something and will do it anyway. She does it instead just to push buttons. If I try to explain why she can’t do whatever it is she was doing, she turns her head away and starts singing.. She doesn’t listen.. Timeout is a staple for us

  4. Marilyn says:

    I like to say no and explain why I said no.

  5. MAMASEXXY says:


  6. Shelby says:

    I usually use 3.

  7. trialia says:

    "…by using creativity, which we all automatically obtain once we become parents."

    You’re being sarcastic, right? I know plenty of people who’ve never had kids who are very imaginative and creative, and vice versa, plenty of parents who have no imagination at all. It’s nothing to do with parenting whether you’re creative or not; it’s a fair mix through most sections of humanity. I’d work out your demographic a bit differently, and avoid generalising.

  8. Janice says:

    No, is often used in place of direction. I know it is easy to say and I have used it myself to direct a child away from harm, or away from some thing of the adult world. They did repeat me, and say NO! also. I did how ever try removing the child from the situation, successfully. I also tried redirecting their attention, and replacing an item with another. As well, I had a relaxed schedule to live by so what needed time got it, and what did not need extra time we could get through sooner. As people and nature change from day to day, so did we.

  9. Kevryn says:

    I do the counting method. When I start counting down from 5 my toddler knows he needs to stop what he is doing and move on to something else. I very rarely need to get down to 1.

  10. Mom2two12 says:

    I tell my son uh uh when he is doing something he isn’t supposed to. My son is a really good easy kid. I do tell him to stop or No but very rarely. I bet I won’t be so lucky with my second.

  11. In my house we say "no thank you" to naughty behaviour the first time, "No!" The second time, and "naughty step" the third time. Then my son will sit on the naughty step for a minute and a half (for his age) and has to hug and say "sorry" to be allowed back off. it’s been pretty effective for me. I’ve tried to stay consistent anyway!

  12. Kimberly says:

    "uhhh-uuhh" works best w/ our 14 mos old too…Now she will walk up to a table for instance that she’s not allowed to touch anything on and shake her head and say "uhh-uhhh"! LOL! It’s really very cute and we know she understands that a particular object is off-limits. 🙂

  13. Rose says:

    We like to say.. now was that a good idea, or JJ that makes us sad. or somethign to that nature

  14. meredith says:

    We say "don’t" with specifics. He’s just a little guy so we’ll see how it works soon enough.

  15. Nella3137 says:

    I tell my son to stop, dont, and uh uh. Believe it or not the last one works the best!!

  16. Sasoo says:

    Saying "that’s not ok" has become a staple

  17. Lyndsi Greim says:

    That’s a great alternative then "no" Thanks for the comment 🙂

  18. Anna Jones says:

    I find myself saying"please don’t" instead of no more often than not.

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