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Feature Article


Why is “NO” your toddler’s favorite word?

Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, former Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


Toddler cryingDoes your two-year-old child say “no” to almost everything you ask, even to things she wants to do? Does your child only want to do things his way? Toddlers in this stage are learning to think for themselves and seeing how it feels to make decisions of their own. They try to assert themselves by saying “no.” This is a normal part of child development and it begins the transition from babyhood to childhood.


Children at this age are full of energy, curiosity and a newfound feeling of independence. They want to dominate their parents. They make unreasonable demands of their parents and get frustrated if those demands are not met immediately. Toddlers don’t have good language skills to express their needs and emotions and this causes additional frustration.


Children at this stage of development want to be independent but they are still very dependent. In their desire for independence they may exhibit unreasonable negative behaviors and are often defiant and uncooperative. Toddlers seem self-centered and are too young to understand how their behaviors affect others.


This is a necessary temporary stage of child development. As children learn more verbal and motor skills, their “no’s” will decrease. It is important for parents to be firm but patient, and look for safe and reasonable opportunities to help their child grow to independence.


Here are some tips for parents during the terrible and terrific toddler years:


  • Offer your child choices within limits that you set.
  • Tell your child what to do instead of what not to do.
  • Teach your child words to tell you what she wants and how she feels.
  • Give simple, clear explanations when telling your child what you want him to do. Keep rules reasonable.
  • Establish consistent routines to meet the child’s basic needs which will prevent frustrating situations with a cranky child.
  • Focus on the positive. Use praise and pay special attention to instances of cooperative behavior.
  • Reduce the number of times you use the word “no” with your child.


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Last Updated 01/23/2017