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Toddlers and the Word “No”

With your toddler asserting a newly discovered feeling of independence, you may find yourself at your wits’ end. Tasks that were once a piece of cake—from buckling a car seat, brushing teeth and getting dressed to grocery shopping and mealtimes—can be a big production these days. Now that your child is testing the waters of freedom—getting bigger, stronger, faster, and simultaneously discovering the word “No!”—you might wonder how to regain control. Consider these tips for guiding your child toward good behavior.

Prepare your child in advance by listing each step. Instead of asking, “Are you ready to go home?” use a happy but firm tone to say, “First, we’re going to walk to the car. Remember to hold my hand. Next, I will help you climb into your seat. Then, I will need your help buckling the seat belt.”

Allow your child feel as if they have some control of their world. Instead of, “What do you want to wear to today?” try, “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the orange shirt?” Instead of, “What do you want for breakfast? try, “Would you like oatmeal or eggs for breakfast?”

Reward good behavior. When your child has cooperated, let them know how pleased you are. “Great job! Thank you for helping me buckle you in! It’s so important to wear your seat belt. Now I will get in and buckle my seat belt just like you!” and, “Great choice! Oatmeal is really yummy and will help keep your tummy full until snack time!”

Choose your battles. While it is critical to not give in on some things (seat belt use, holding hands when crossing a street, etc.), sometimes you have to pick your battles. If your child refuses to get dressed, sometimes you just need to call it a pajama day—easy to do on a day off! If she refuses her meat and veggies at dinner time, don’t make it a big issue. She’ll eat when she is hungry. Just continue to put healthy, well-balanced choices on her plate or tray at each meal and eventually she’ll try them.

How do you guide your child toward good behavior?