Ask a Parent Coach: The “No” Stage

Now that my son has turned 2, he has become, well, a little difficult. While he was once easygoing, he suddenly objects to things he used to like, and his new favorite word is “no.” What is going on, and what can I do about it?!

In the first three years, your child’s growth is extraordinary. By 2, their thoughts and feelings may be quite complex — but a child’s language skills and vocabulary aren’t yet sophisticated enough to effectively express those complexities. 2-year-olds may feel frustrated by their inability to communicate or manage their own environment, and that is why “no” becomes a favorite.

  • Give choices, not commands. Instead of telling a child exactly what to do, give them a choice that they can’t answer with a “no.” Ask, “Do you want to put away your toys or help me fold up your clothes?”
  • Reduce your own use of the word. Instead of saying “no,” be specific. If your natural instinct is to say, “No running near the computer,” maybe say, “Let’s play in your room, because the computer is delicate.”
  • Give them a reason. Offer a reasonable explanation of consequences. Saying, “Let’s not play in the mud, because if we do the car gets dirty” can be more effective than “Don’t play in the mud!”
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