How to Stop Toddler Negativity

toddler negativity
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If you have a toddler on your hands, chances are you are well acquainted with the word “no.” Some days it might even feel like “no” is all you ever hear. Are you hungry? NO! Do you want to go to the park? NO! Do you want to play with your toys? NO! Sometimes toddlers give a loud and forceful “NO!” right before they do what they just said they wouldn’t do.

The “no” stage can be emotionally exhausting for parents. It doesn’t matter how patient you are, hearing no for an answer all day long wears on your good nature.

So what gives? Why do toddlers feel the need to assert their new-found negativity every chance they get? There are likely a few factors at play, and it helps to understand the triggers beneath the toddler negativity behavior.

They hear it a lot.

Most parents look at me like I’m not making any sense at all when I challenge them to go 72 hours without using the word “no” at all. Surely it’s not that difficult, right? Not so much.

I took my own challenge when my kids were toddlers and found that it isn’t that easy. As parents, we use “no” for a variety of reasons. We use it to indicate danger, we use it to set limits, we use it to stop negative behaviors, and we even use it when a request is just too much to handle at the moment. Toddlers hear “no” fairly regularly, and they know it works.

Limited communication skills.

Toddlers are busy learning to put their thoughts into words, but that can be a frustrating process. They know a lot more than they can verbalize and it takes time to find the right words to convey thoughts. “No” is a simple word that holds a lot of meanings, and many toddlers use it to assert their needs.

It feels powerful.

Toddlers don’t have a lot of control over their lives, but yelling “no” or even stating it in a calm manner gives them a feeling of control over the situation. It also tends to illicit a response right away, and that’s a powerful feeling.

Rest easy. More often than not toddler refusal ends just as quickly as it begins. As your toddler develops more complex language skills and masters new milestones, she’ll likely move away from focusing on “no”. In the meantime, try these strategies to reduce the refusal in your home:

Decrease your use of the word

Take the No “No” Challenge for 72 hours to reduce your own reliance on the word, and use that time to come up with positive alternatives. Kids need to understand that “no” is non-negotiable (as in “no!” you don’t run in front of a car). When they hear it too often, it loses its meaning.

{ MORE: Positive Parenting Strategies for the Toddler Years }

Avoid saying “no” in a singsong voice or in a joking manner. Focus on positive communication with your toddler, instead.

Tone down your responses

If you either laugh and make jokes or completely lose your cool when your toddler gives you a “no,” you’re unknowingly adding fuel to the refusal fire. Toddlers love big responses, and they repeat what works. They are also easily confused. If you laugh one time but come unglued the next, your toddler won’t know what to do.

{ MORE: Mom Claps Back Over Criticism for Extended Breastfeeding }

Tone down your emotional responses and make observations to help your toddler learn new phrases to communicate her needs.

Provide options

Toddlers have very little control over their lives. That’s frustrating. They also change rapidly, and sometimes parents forget that strawberries were hot last week but bananas are all the rage this week.

Give your toddler choices when it comes to snacks, clothing, and things to do. Toddlers are always being told what to do and where to be. This leads to greater refusal. Sometimes a few simple choices in the daily life of the toddler can yield positive responses.

Notice positive behaviors

Toddlers get a lot of corrections on any given day. Toddlerhood is one huge experiment in trial and error, and sometimes the errors seem huge. Take the time to notice (out loud) what your toddler is doing well.

Positive feedback feels good. Thank your toddler for picking up the toys or putting the shoes in the shoe bin.

{ MORE: Preschool Readiness: What Age is the Best Age for Preschool? }

Toddlers can be exhausting, but they can also be a ton of fun. Help your toddler learn to communicate her thoughts and feelings to move away from refusal and toward happier days!

Do you have any tips for turning toddler negativity into toddler positivity?

What do you think?

How to Stop Toddler Negativity

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about helping parents enjoy the ride, she provides parent education and simple strategies to take t ... More

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