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When all you hear is No! - Your Young Child

Parents and child care professionals often become frustrated as toddlers develop the ability to say "no"—to everything! Although it is normal for "no" behavior to occur when a young child reaches the toddler stage, it can be difficult for a parent to deal with this normal negativity, which can take the form of opposition, temper tantrums, and defiance.

Young children go through challenging stages as they grow. These stages are a normal part of a child's development but getting through the stages may be difficult for both parents and children. Some children seem to say "no" often and do things that upset us. But the "no" stage is important for a child to go through in order to learn self‑control and how to respect boundaries.

Sometimes situations can make children act in a negative way. Various things may trigger negative behavior but there are many things that you can do to help them:

  • Change the situation. A child who is under stress may be more negative than usual.
  • When your child is tired or hungry. Getting him to bed at a regular time and providing healthy meals and snacks may help your child stay in control.
  • When your child is facing new situations. For example, if your son is starting to go to a new day care, it's not a good time to work on getting him to stop using a pacifier. Give your child time to adjust to one change before introducing another.
  • When your child is bored. Providing a new experience or way to play with a toy may capture your child's interest. (Can you make a road with the blocks?).
  • When your child is sick. A child who is coming down with an illness or getting over one maybe extra negative. Try to be understanding. Protect your child and other people. A child's normal desire to be independent is sometimes dangerous. You need to stop a behavior immediately if it may hurt someone. Talk about how the child feels as you stop the harmful behavior. For example, say, "I know you want the toy, but you can't hit your brother. Hitting hurts." Or, "It's fun to run, but not in the street. A car might hit you." Encourage cooperation. Your child is more likely to do what you say if you use approaches like these:
  • Give an acceptable choice. Say "Would you like to wear your red shirt or your blue one?" This lets your child be independent in an acceptable way.
  • Be specific and clear about what you want your child to do. Say "Let's put the blocks on the shelf" instead of "Let's put the toys away."
  • Tell your child what TO DO instead of what not to do. Say and show how to "Touch the kitty softly" instead of just saying "Don't poke the kitty."
  • Make requests that are reasonable. For example, a young child may find it easier to trade one toy for another rather than give up a toy and have nothing left to play with.
  • Teach your child words to express his feelings or to tell you what he wants, rather than acting out. For example, as you calmly take your screaming child out of the supermarket, say "You are really mad that you can't have the cookies." Or teach your child to say "That's mine" instead of hitting a playmate who tries to take away a toy.
  • Be consistent. Your child will be confused if you make her pick up her toys one day but not the next.

Take care of yourself. To be an effective parent, you need to know your limits as well as your child's. Keep your child's actions in perspective. If this were someone else's child, would you be so upset by the behavior?

Think about why your child is acting the way he is, instead of just getting mad. This will help you understand how to best meet your child's needs. Find ways to reduce your own stress. Ask someone you trust to care for your child while you take a short walk or a bath or take a relaxing drive. Be aware of what upsets you. Ask for help when you feel anxious or need a break.

Never discipline in anger. Calm down; get yourself under control, before trying to teach self-control to your child. Encouraging young children to cooperate is a way of guiding them to behave in appropriate ways.

The emergence of independence and autonomy creates new issues for parents and other caregivers with their child. These issues include disagreements about what is safe and what is not safe, the toddler's desire to "have it all," opposition and negativism that accompany this new sense of personal will, and temper tantrums when a parent says no. These childhood frustrations are easier for parents to respond to when they have an understanding of the child's distress.

It is important to recognize cultural and family beliefs. Toddlers learn the purpose and value of things from their parents, and they can learn to tolerate distress (going to child care, sleeping in a separate bed) much better if they have a sense that it is for a good reason or worthy cause. Parent's indecisiveness and anxiety in their beliefs can add to a child's distress. Helping parents become settled in their decision can be beneficial for both the child and parent.

If there is a behavior problem that continues for a long period of time and you feel at the end of your rope, please ask your doctor or another professional about getting additional ideas. If your child seems angry or sad most of the time – seek professional help to see if there is a medical problem.

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