Ask a parent about their 2- or 3-year-old’s favorite word, and the answer can easily be “no” or “ayaw.” So, why do toddlers contradict their parents all the time? Don't worry. Your toddler is not angering you on purpose.
“Kids this age are realizing that they can assert themselves, and arguing with you is one way they gain confidence,” Dr. John Sargent, a child psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, told Parents.
It can be surprising if you find that your little one suddenly seems very “matigas ang ulo.” But this defiance is part of a child’s normal development. Saying no is his way of testing out his independence. Your job is to take control of the situation in a calm manner to avoid a power struggle with your tot, said Dr. Elizabeth Berger, a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character, in a column. Here are a few tips on how to do just that:
1. Acknowledge but don’t give in. The first step to handling your toddler's cries of “no!” is to acknowledge that he’s feeling annoyed or upset. For your child to calm down and start listening to you, he has to know that you understand him. “[It’s] usually less trouble if the parent can make an effort to be especially diplomatic and respectful of the toddler's need to feel in control,” said Dr. Berger.
For example, your child refuses to head to bed at night. Instead of saying “no” back, which can lead to a battle with your child, say something like, “You’re not sleepy? I can see you don’t want to go to bed yet.” Then, follow up with the next step below.
2. Provide choices. “Giving your toddler choices helps satisfy her need to feel in control,” said Angie T. Cranor, Ph.D., an assistant professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina. So, in the scenario where your toddler refuses bedtime, take advantage, and give her choices. Make sure you’re okay with all the options (stick with just two) and be specific. “I know you don’t want to stop playing, but it’s bedtime. Do you want to read a story first or brush your teeth?” is something you could say.
“Be effortlessly in charge. Totally unthreatened,” advised Janet Lansbury, a parenting advisor, author, and host of the popular podcast Respectful Parenting. The key is to be a parent still while also respecting your child’s need to test out her newfound independence.
3. Avoid saying “no” as well. Children are big copycats. If she hears the word directed at her a lot, she’s much more likely to imitate it. Plus, saying “no” back to your toddler’s “no” might only put her in an even worse temperament and will make it harder for you to get her to do what you want.
Instead, find other ways to convey your command. “Tell your child what you want her to do rather than what you don't want her to do,” said Dr. Cranor. Say your toddler is in his high chair and making racket by banging his bowl. Say, “Keep your bowl on the table please.” If she’s jumping on the sofa, say “Sit down, please. You might fall and hurt yourself.” 4. Anticipate the “no.” You already know your child will angrily refuse to have his diaper changed while he’s playing with his toys. So, find a creative way around the “no.” Instead of having to call him over to you and disrupting his playtime, bring his diaper to him. Change him while he’s busy with his toys. Little things don’t need to be turned into big deals. Sometimes it’s all about choosing your battles and letting kids be kids. It will save you the stress as well.
5. Stand your ground. There will be moments where, no matter what you do, your child will insist on contradicting whatever it is you tell her. When this happens, try not to start an argument but stand your ground. “It's important for your toddler's sense of security that she sees you making the decisions and sticking to them,” said BabyCentre. “While your toddler has a will of her own, things will quickly get out of hand if she's allowed to exert it too much.”