Why Does My Toddler Say “No” To Everything?

Boy red shirt crossed arms

It’s such exciting news to a toddler that they can finally do things on his own — they can express their own thoughts and feelings, eat (or refuse to eat) their own food, build and climb without mum’s help.

Saying “no” is a normal, healthy way for a small person to exert his will and practice this newfound independence.

But for parents, it’s frustrating to hear nothing but negative. It makes even the smallest tasks seem impossible when you get zero cooperation from your little one.

If you’re in the midst of a “no” onslaught, see if adjusting your own language will help. Try to reframe how you give directions to your child. Instead of saying, “We have to leave your blankie at home,” ask, “Where should we leave blankie so he’s safe while we’re gone, the couch or your crib?” Instead of saying, “It’s time to put on your PJs now,” say “It’s PJs time, should we get dressed in your chair or on the bed?” We hear it all the time, but choices really are key. If you can make your little one feel powerful, but keep to your agenda at the same time, everyone wins.

Another reason kids say “no” all the time is that they hear it from us so often. When babies start to go for the electrical outlets or pull picture frames off the tables, it’s our natural inclination to start almost every sentence with this word of caution. The tendency only grows as the toddler years begin and a child’s capacity for destruction grows.

No doubt when the situation calls for it, every parent needs a good firm “no” in their back pocket. But as much as possible, try instead to work your way around the word with another phrase. Give a simple explanation, like “That’s only for grown ups,” or “We don’t climb on the table because we could fall,” because a barrage of “no’s” will quickly come back to you.  This also gives your child a chance to learn and understand your reasoning, instead of just feeling restricted by your words.