Short Answer – Are you in the midst of the toddler terrible twos? Is “no!” the new battle cry of your darling child?  Try not to view “no” as defiance, instead try to see it as a natural part of your child developing their independence. Help show them better, less disruptive ways to express their will. Connect with them, give them options so they don’t feel powerless, and reward them for ‘helping’ rather than saying no.

Toddler Terrible Twos: The No! Phase

Does this sound at all familiar to you moms?

Mom: “Put your toys away.”

Toddler: “No!”

Mom: “Please?  It’s time to go now, let’s pick up these toys.”

Toddler: “No! No! No!”

And the battles go on and on. The toddler terrible twos phase is a right of passage. It can be challenging to parent an oppositional child that is resistant to your direction. But keep in mind that the “no phase”, while super frustrating, is also normal toddler behavior. Many kids go through this stage. It can happen with grade school kids and adolescents too.

The good news?  You CAN get through this!  First, it’s important to have an understanding of what causes oppositional behavior in the first place. Then the key to dealing with the terrible twos is to have a little patience and a willingness to try a variety of techniques until you find the one that works best for your child. Wondering where to start? We’ve got your covered. Read on to learn the whys and hows of dealing with a kid that just says no.

Where “NO!” Comes From

One good way to explain resistance is to explain what is isn’t. You may hear your toddler saying no and think that they are being strong-willed, defiant or manipulative, but that isn’t really the case. This type of resistance is more instinctual than overtly obstinate, which is why psychologists prefer to call it counter-will. Understanding that counter-will is an important and healthy developmental tool for your child can help you look at resistance from a new perspective. In other words, the toddler terrible twos aren’t all bad.

The bond between a parent and child is the most important factor in their development. This connection, however, is not always felt by your toddler in a particular moment. In addition, children are not wired to take direction from someone to whom they feel no attachment. This is mostly a good thing because having your child say “no!” to a stranger is a safety mechanism. But in those moments when they are not feeling attached to you, their counter-will kicks in and you get the “No!” that comes along with the toddler terrible twos instead. 

Counter-will serves another important purpose. It helps kids express their individuality and independence. This is why you tend to hear a lot more “No!” during the toddler and preschool years. Kids are just beginning to realize they can assert themselves. Saying no is less about them refusing to do something, and more about being able to exert control over a situation they would otherwise feel powerless about. The “Nos” that accompany the toddler terrible twos are their way of controlling their situation and building confidence. Makes it a little less frustrating, doesn’t it?

Toddler Terrible Twos
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What Can I Do?  

You will never fully get rid of resistance in your child, but quite frankly, you wouldn’t want to. There are times when asserting oneself is a good thing. What you want to do is make counter-will more manageable and less disruptive. You also want to cut back on Temper Tantrums In Toddlers. Remember counter-will usually stems from a child not feeling connected to you, so creating more disconnection through yelling or punishment is only going to make matters worse. Instead, take a deep breath and try one or all of the following techniques that can help with terrible twos and your child back on track.

  • Check Yourself FirstHow many times a day do you say no? We’re not suggesting you start letting your kids do whatever they want, but try being more conscious and selective with your language. The toddler terrible twos may be a case of them copying you. Instead of saying “no!” when they ask for a cookie, try saying “you know we don’t have sweets before dinner. You can have one after you finish your meal.” They less no they hear, the less they will mimic.
  • Connect Before You Direct – Before trying to tell your child what to do, first try rebuilding the attachment between you. Use eye contact, focus your attention on them, touch or talk to them. Reestablishing a feeling of connection between you and your child will start to dial back their resistance.
  • Offer Choices – Help your child find more productive ways of exercising their will (other than saying no) by letting them make some of the decisions. Instead of telling them to go to bed (a yes/no proposition) ask them what they’d rather do first…brush their teeth or put on pajamas. This makes your child feel less powerless and you have less chance of your toddler saying no.
  • Ask For Their Help – Kids of all ages will often say no to tasks they don’t want or like to do. But if you appeal to the side of them that wants to please you and make you happy, you’ve got a much better chance of seeing results. “It would make me so happy if you would pick your clothes up off the floor” or “It would be such a big help if you would unload the dishwasher”. Framing it this way makes kids feel appreciated and the task seems less like a chore. It’s a good trick for sidestepping a typical toddler terrible twos response.
  • Show Empathy When your child is engaged in a fun activity, like playing a game or taking a bath, it’s easy to see why they might not want to transition into a different task. They may start throwing a toddler tantrum and you’ll hear a lot of “NOs”.  Show them you understand, and help them see why it makes sense to stop. “I know you’re having fun playing ball, but if you stop now we can get ready to go to grandmas house.  She is waiting for us.”
  • Don’t Take It Personally – It’s really not about you, it’s about your child developing their confidence and independence (which is a good thing in the long run). Just be patient, as with most developmental stages the toddler terrible twos will get better.

So take a deep breath, and try some or all of the strategies above. And remember, the toddler terrible twos is just phase. Like all other phases, this too shall pass.

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