Celebrate Your Toddler’s “No!”

By Judy Arnall, director of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.professionalparenting.ca

I walked into the kitchen and discovered my two-year-old blonde-haired daughter, dressed in her little pink fleece sleeper with the padded feet, standing on top of the chair next to the counter.  She was preoccupied with dipping her fingers into the butter bowl and then into the sugar bowl before they headed into her waiting mouth. When she saw me enter the kitchen, a potential threat to her wonderful activity, she formed a very concise pointed finger at me, and firmly delivered “No!” at my astonished expression.

“No!” It’s probably the most commonly used word in toddlerhood! It flies out of our children’s mouths before they even have time to really think about what they are saying “no” to.

When my five children were young, they were allowed to say “no” as much as they wanted to. I would always try to respect their “no” as much as I could within the parameters of the particular situation, and especially in circumstances such as when they didn’t want to be tickled by me or didn’t want to hear me sing or didn’t want to be kissed by Grandma or didn’t want to share their prized possessions. I think “no” is an important word for asserting their feelings and desires and, unless it is a matter of safety, they have the right to have their opinion listened to and respected. Here is why children should be allowed to say “no”:

  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is three and her daddy might want to put her in the front seat and not the carseat because it is less hassle.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is five and her little five-year-old friend might want her to cross a busy street without an adult.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is nine and her uncle might want to touch her in her private places.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 12 and her friends might want her to steal a candy bar from the grocery store.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 14 and her friends might bully a fellow student.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 15 and a friend’s drunk parent might want to drive her home from a sleepover party.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 16 and her boyfriend might want to “show” her how much he loves her.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 18 and her buddies might want her to try some “ecstasy.”

So, when she is two years old, my daughter can practice saying “no” as much as she needs to. And I won’t take it personally.

18 thoughts on “Celebrate Your Toddler’s “No!””

  1. YES!!! I completely agree. Children should be allowed to say no whenever it is reasonable when they are little or else tey will think they can never say no when they are older! Preach On!!!

  2. This sounds interesting but not respectful to the wise and loving adults in your child’s life. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply teach your child about potential dangers and how to handle them? Yes, learning to say ‘no’ is important but… Would you rather live in a world where everyone is really good at saying ‘no’ or everyone is really good at showing respect. And where does trust play into all of this?

  3. I have mixed feelings about this. I would say that saying “no” is okay in some circumstances, but I don’t want my child telling me “no” in response to something he’s supposed to be doing. I definitely agree that saying “no” in the circumstances you listed would be important.

  4. Sorry but this is absolutely ridiculous! You know what I don’t want? My kids saying ‘no’ when I ask them to eat their dinner. To say ‘no’ when I ask them to get in the bath. To say ‘no’ when I ask them to do their homework. To say ‘no’ when I tell them they have to be home by such and such a time. To say ‘no’ when I tell them not to do drugs etc etc etc.

    Try raising your kids like this and see how they turn out. Really no offense intended, but common!!

  5. What a great article of a mum of an 11 month old who loves “No” it’s a great reminder of how important the word is. I spent 1 month living abroad saying No as I didn’t know what anyone was asking me and it was safer in my early 20’s I’m glad I did yes I turned down ice cream and cake but I don’t even want to think about what else I turned down and am so glad that I did.

  6. Love this you must always respect them even if it hurts our feelings. My grandbaby who is two told me No the other day when I wanted a kiss. First thought. Yes I am going to get one, second thought, he really might not want one at the moment. Second Won out but, I know that he loves me!!!! Just being a two year old.

  7. Just a theory – won’t a toddler say “No” if he/she has heard the word “No” directed at him/her very often ?

  8. I, too, have mixed feelings about it. I think it is perfecty acceptable for my todder to express his emotions in a respectful manner, and saying “no,” can be perfectly respectful. I love them example that the lady gave about the kiss. If my toddler says “no” to a kiss or hug, I would respect his space. I also can easily empathize with my toddler. In other words, I understand why he does what he does. For example, you child did not dip her hands in the butter and sugar to defy you. She just wanted to do it. We do that as adults ALL the time. We make selfish decisions daily. We just do not have someone calling us out on it all the time. We also break many of the stupid rules we have for our children.

    We also have to remember that saying’ “no” is how they begin to assert their independence. If they did not start becoming independent, then parents would complain that they are clingy and dependent. That is why parents sleep-train, after all, to make their poor babies “independent,” yet it is often the same parents that cannot handle the dependence in toddlerhood. How confusing. I do not believe in sleep-training, by the way.

    I listen to my child if he is being defiant or is upset. I explain things to him. I let him say “no,” respectfully, but that does not mean he gets to do whatever he was doing because he said “no.” If he said “no” to eating dinner, like the example from a commentor, I would respect that he might not be hungry. If he said it to doing his homework, I would sit and work with him through his homework and get to the root of why he is saying “no.”

    I think respect for authority (God, parents, etc.) is extremely important. I want my child to respect God and fear him. I want him to respect his parents, as well, but I also want to show my child I am worth respecting and respect him in return. With that said, I also think it is extremely important for parents to understand child development. We see a child’s behavior as “annoying” or “defiant” when that is not really what it is at all. The child is responding how he was designed to developmentally. So many parents misunderstand that.

    I look at my son as a little person. His wants, needs, and desires are just as valuable and real as mine, so I respect them, even if I do not understand them. I also understand that it is my role as his mother, his teacher, to guide him and discipline him in a kind, effective, and gentle manner, and sometimes, that saying “no” and sticking to it. “No, it is not okay to hit because…””Yes, we have to work on your homework because….” “No, you cannot go to the party because….” Hopefully my child will understand that I do not frivolously say “no” so he knows there is weight behind it when I do say it.

  9. Amen! I agree with the commenter above who respects her grandbaby not wanting kisses. It is very hard not to force little kisses on a toddler but I am proud of myself when I listen to his “no” (He actually just shakes his head so far) and back off.

    Throughout my childhood/teen years I was allowed to say no within reason (safety) and make my case if my parents and I disagreed. I will definitely do the same with my son and future children. If he does say no to eating his dinner, that doesn’t mean I’m just going to let him have dessert, but I’m not going to force-feed him either. (Listening to your body is a BIG ONE when it comes to saying no. I feel that “clear your plate” is a popular but dangerous mentality.) I want my kids to feel confident in standing up for themselves and their feelings, even (maybe especially) to me and others they love.

  10. Hey, I was a passive kid who did what I was told and I turned into a passive adult who has made underachievement a way of life. I have an angry, very smart Learning Disabled daughter who makes me crazy saying no, being angry, and in general not passively accepting my every whim.

    I’ll bet she goes a lot farther in life than I did. Yes, it’s more work for me, but, most days, I can take it.

    Good luck everyone and remember we don’t all need to parent alike!

    Jen C

  11. p.s. It is without a doubt because I had very dominating adults in my life that I cannot bear to have a boss or be told what to do in any way – you have to learn to stick up for yourself when you are young or you may fail to learn it at all. The kid who is completely dominated in a household is never going to grow up to be a highly effective person.

    Jen C.

  12. Great article! “No” is just a word, a way of expressing certain thoughts or feelings. And my kids can say “no” when they want. Sometimes they don’t even mean it.

    If I tell/ask them to do something and they say “no,” we can talk about it. Doesn’t mean they won’t end up doing it.

  13. Thank you so much for this post. My nearly three year old is Mr. “No” and Mr. “I dont’ want to” and while it is frustrating at times, I completely agree that it is more important for him to express himself and his boundaries and have them respected than it is for me to always impose my will upon him. Of course there are times when I also have to say “No” and he must then also learn to respect that as well. If I don’t respect him, then how will he learn to respect me?

  14. This is the most trivial article and ensuing discussion that I have ever seen. This whole thing is a testament to the fact that stay at home mums have too much time on their hands. Get a life.

  15. Thank you! I am using your post in a passive attempt to educate certin family members that they need to remember my 2 yr old is a person too, and deserves the same respect as an adult when it comes to her body. We had a sensory overload issue today that ended in an hr and half tantrum because family members insisted on touching and kissing and picking her up, though she was very clear with her “no’s”. I completely agree that she has the right to say no about abything pertaining to her own body.

  16. Thank you Judy.
    I have heard “no” so many times today from my 3 yr old daughter – it was nearly the end of me! This is a nice twist on common wisdom AND aligns well with my personal values. I look forward to “celebrating” tomorrow.


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