How To Say No To A Toddler

At some point we all have to say the word ‘no’ to our children. Well, that is unless we want to end up on The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Toddler tantrum

No one likes to hear the word no. Being told we can’t do whatever we want is hard. I don’t like it when someone says, “No, you can’t order another pint, it’s time to go home, you need to be up at 6am to look after your son”.

Perhaps you don’t like being told you can’t afford to buy a pair of shoes, or have a lie in, or watch your favourite TV programme because the Sky box is taping In The Night Garden on repeat.

But as adults at least we understand the reasons why someone is saying no to us.

When you’re a little person (but think you’re actually very grown up) being told no is like you’re Kim Jon Un and Obama says you have to put your nuclear missiles away. Or get a proper hair cut.

All toddlers are dictators.

I don’t mean they are evil but they are megalomaniacs. They think they are the centre of the universe. In fact they are the universe, the universe is them, and everything in it exists to do their bidding.

Other humans fall into one of these categories:

  • Parents: your butler and lady’s maid. Also you’re still not sure if they’re an extension of you. Like having a bit of you that you can detach and send on missions. Like being a Transformer.
  • Siblings: smaller than you equals servant or pet. Bigger than you means you sort of want to be them but sort of want to annihilate them.
  • Grandparents: you in geriatric form. Ultimate allies. Will do whatever you want.
  • Other adults: same as animals, trees, birds, cars. Just automatons. They don’t have feelings or brains. You can smile at them and they might smile back. Whatever.
  • Other children: As above but more like bits of mud that you can just trample on.They are meaningless irritations, taking your things, eating your food, breathing your air, taking attention away from you. Walk through them, move them out of the way, destroy if need be.

The title of this post is ‘How to say no to a toddler’. However, if you’ve read this far hoping for some advice or magical answers I’m sorry to disappoint you but they aren’t coming. You can’t say no to a toddler. Well, you can but there is very little point.

You may be rolling your eyes at me now and saying: “You’re going to raise a monster, you’ll end up on one of those programmes called My Child Is In Charge or Generation Brat.”

But I’m not saying that Baby B will never have boundaries. I simply don’t see the point in wasting our breath trying to set rules about concepts he can’t understand. Saying no every five minutes wears us out, it stops him learning about his own limits, and it loses its meaning.

These are the only times I suggest saying no to a toddler under two:

  1. They are about to seriously hurt themselves. We’re talking falling down stairs, pulling heavy objects down on themselves, sticking their fingers in sockets, or in fires or running into the road. Really bad things. Pulling clothes out of his drawer? Fine. I’ll put them back. Tearing up a newspaper. If i’ve read it no worries. Even if I haven’t it’s only a newspaper. I’d recommend putting anything you don’t want to be trashed out of reach. Then sit back and watch them learn.
  2. They are about to hurt someone else. Hitting and biting are what some toddlers do but it’s not OK so this is one time to gently step in, say ‘No we don’t hit/bite/kick’ and calmly remove your toddler from the situation. Happens again, do the same thing, keep doing it. They’ll get bored first. If you react in an alarmed way I think that gives your toddler a shot of adrenalin and they get upset or excited and their brain says ‘Yeah, do it again!’
  3. Trashing your TV or other item of value. There are times when you can’t put every breakable object out of reach. Again, as with the hitting I try to use distraction and if that doesn’t work a calm no and an explanation and then moving him away. Repeat ad nauseam. This could fill a whole hour of your day. But no one gets hurt.
  4. Throwing poo around. Food is ok for now. But not poo.

I honestly can’t think of any other situations where no is really needed. As he grows up Baby B will continue to discover situations where he can’t do something because it’s simply impossible – like pushing a square peg into a round hole, or his toy buggy through a door. For now he keeps trying and gets very frustrated when the laws of physics get in the way.

Tantrum is on the cards - bad buggy!

Tantrum is on the cards – bad buggy!

So I think this stage of life is all about letting him learn. Giving him permission to get cross at the situation and leaving him to work out that it’s never going to happen. No matter how much our little dictator orders it to be so!

Feel free to disagree with me. This is just my limited experience of being a parent for fourteen months. Not saying no may turn out to be a massive mistake. I’ll have to learn, along with Baby B. But we’ll hopefully have some laughs along the way!


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9 replies »

  1. Brilliant post – I say no far too much to Zach but a lot of the time it really is needed! Or is it I wonder?! You’ve got me thinking now and I’m going to try and assess if a no is really needed. The worst is when they learn to say no. It’s not ok for me to say it but absolutely fine for him!! Thanks so much for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday!


  2. I agree with you – there’s no point in saying no too much early on. Though I should have said no to my younger son with regards staying in his own bed at night. He’s three and massive now and still gets in with us every night. Little sod!

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