How To Avoid Constantly Saying ‘No’ To A Toddler

Do you ever have one of those days or weeks with the kids, where it feels like all you do is say ‘No’. An onslaught of negativity and discipline where everyone is miserable. You feel like the big bad wolf and wonder why your toddler is so defiant, all-of-the-time! Sound familiar? I knew the whole parenting gig wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. But whoah, taming a toddler has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced to date. Every so often as parents we can get caught in a rut of saying ‘No’ and it feels like there is no alternative. The thing about saying ‘No’ to a toddler is that’s it’s pretty counter productive and for the most part ineffective. The more a toddler feels they are being restricted and controlled the more out of control they tend to get. Ironic really. So here are some tips to avoid constantly saying ‘No’ to a toddler and what you can do that will make both you and your tiny human less frustrated.

6 Ways to Avoid Constantly Saying ‘No’ to a Toddler

1. Offer Choices

I have come to see that if I when I give choices, I don’t leave my kids feeling powerless. The reason two year olds can be so tricky is they are finding their own sense of self. They like the feeling they are making their own choices (don’t we all!). That’s why when we as parents try to guide them in telling them what to do, they are having absolutely none of it. So instead of telling your child what to do, ask them. For example, when you need your child to put on their pyjamas asking, ‘Will we put on our PJ’s and get cosy or will we tidy up the bookshelf’. ‘Would you like to sit up for lunch or clean up all the toys?’. I make one of the options sound more appealing (obviously the one I need him to do!). 9 times out of 10, when given the choice, kids will get on board. By giving them a choice, you are giving them back some autonomy and taking away the feelings of powerlessness that often overwhelm tiny people.

2. Name Feelings

Toddlers have been known on occasion to get upset (shocking really). Often about things, that to you or I, may seem pretty insignificant. That said in their big, crazy and confusing world, the smallest thing can set them off.  Maybe they asked for triangle sandwiches. You give them triangle sandwiches but of course they meant squares. They mean square sandwiches however continue to shout ‘triangles’ at you. Chaos and crying ensues because making triangles back into squares is trickier than you might think.

Some things can’t be fixed in the world of a toddler. In these moments all we can do is comfort them, name how they are feeling and acknowledge those feelings. For example, ‘I can see that you are feeling sad that we can’t go outside, but it’s raining and I wan’t you to stay warm and dry’. Instead of saying ‘No we’re not going outside because it’s raining and you’re not getting wet again today’. Naming your toddlers feelings helps them to understand the language of emotions (which are in fact abstract concepts which are very hard to describe). Similarly if your toddler is having a melt down it’s important to name it for them. Example ‘I can see you are feeling really frustrated and angry. When you need me and want to talk, I’ll be in the kitchen’.


3. Use Positive Language

Something as simple as trying to use positive phrases instead of negative ones when getting your toddler to do/not to do things can be magic. When you catch them about to do something you both know they aren’t allowed to do, try re-framing it in a positive way. For example, if you see your child standing with pen in hand about to scribble all over their siblings picture. Our instinct is to say ‘Do NOT touch your brothers picture, put that pen down now’. The alternative is to say something like ‘I see you are tidying up the pens, and minding your brother’s picture that he made. You are such a kind brother. Will I help you?’. This usually confuses them, but also affirms the potentially good thing they could do. Phrases like this show your child that you assume the best in them (even if you don’t!). Trying to find the positive can be difficult in a heated situation, but is far more likely to diffuse your toddler than shouting ‘No’ and ‘Stop that now’.

4. Distract

There are times when little ones simply need to be distracted from whatever it is that is making them upset, frustrated or angry. Never underestimate the power of distraction. A high interest activity in another part of the house, or the other side of the playground may just do the trick. The key is moving away from where your toddler is perhaps about to lose it. Start a new and exciting activity that distracts them from feelings of frustration or anger. Being silly, tickles and playing funny games are a great way to get your child back on board.

5. Be consistent

In life there are rules, for our kids most often these rules are in place to keep them safe, fed and happy. When it comes to toddlers, consistency is really important. When things are unpredictable and inconsistent, naturally kids will constantly test boundaries and gauge their parents reactions. For example if your child touches a socket switch one day and you barely react and the next day in a similar scenario they are told off, shouted at and reprimanded. For a child this is confusing and unfair. Similarly it is important for parents to be consistent in their joint expectations of their kids. If Mommy allows the kids to throw water in the pool outside and at the weekend Daddy gets cross for the same actions, a child is getting mixed messages. Consistency makes it easier for your child to understand the rules and the behaviour expected of them in different scenarios.

6. Explain

I often find myself saying ‘No’ and ‘Stop’ and suddenly hear a little voice respond with ‘Why?’. Knowing that sometimes that ‘Why’ has been sent to test me, other times I know it is that my toddler genuinely doesn’t understand why I am deterring or reprimanding him. Kids need explanations (sometimes numerous explanations about the same thing!). For example: Instead of yelling ‘Take your dirty feet off the table’, saying something like: ‘It’s good to keep our feet down on the ground, because if we put them up, the table will get all dirty and so will our food. Uh-oh….dirt on our food (cue disgusted face). For a toddler the second scenario is a far more meaningful one. Other examples: ‘You have to wear your coat’ vs. ‘It’s good to wear our coats to keep us warm, and dry so we don’t get sick’.

When ‘No’ means ‘No’.

Sometimes toddler’s need a ‘No’ or ‘Stop’. When something is dangerous, or potentially harmful, we need them to react and take heed of what we are warning them about. In that way, saying ‘No’ to a toddler is definitely necessary sometimes. Using some of the above strategies can make ‘No’ meaningful when it needs to be, whilst defusing the power struggle that we as parents often find ourselves in with our tiny humans.


Looking for more ideas for life with your toddler? Have a look at 5 Games to Support Your Toddler’s Speech and Language Development for practical ideas and advice about fun ways to support our children’s language and learning.

Photos by the very talented Little Things by Michaela



  1. February 12, 2018 / 10:13 pm

    I do not negotiate with terrorists…. even the ones I have created myself!

    • February 12, 2018 / 10:55 pm

      I too avoid it! Best not to get yourself in the situation where you have to in the first place!!! x

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