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A Parenting Coach's Top 10 Tips for Calming Your Contrary Child

One of the most frustrating stages of toddlerhood can be when a child learns to master the word, “No.” Between the ages of 15 and 30 months, a toddler begins to realize that they are a separate person from their parents; a person who has their own will and their own mind. As this realization sets in, a child begins to discover their independence and begins to practice asserting this independence to all who will listen. It’s this stage of development that is usually marked by a child singing a seemingly continuous chorus of a loud and proud, “No.”

Although on the surface it may seem that the child is being defiant and difficult, a young child who is constantly saying no is in a monumental phase of early childhood development. When parents aren’t coached to recognize this stage for what it is, the result can be frequent power struggles between parent and child.

While it’s important for a child to understand that the parent is the person of authority, it’s also important to let a child engage in self-discovery by allowing them to assert their feelings and to learn that it can be okay to say no. At this stage of development, when vocabulary is limited, a toddler often doesn’t have other expressions to show their displeasure so inevitably, “no” becomes their simple favorite.

Coaching parents through this natural and important stage of development can help them deal with the frustrations that can come when – regardless of what they ask their child – the response that they get is an unmistakable, “No.”
So how can parents navigate this important developmental stage?

Try using these top 10 techniques to manage the contrary stage:

1. Give the child two choices that you can live with. This is a time when the child is learning to make choices, and you can help by giving limited choices that won’t overwhelm them. Instead of asking the child if they want cereal for breakfast, ask if they want one brand of cereal versus the other.

2. Offer the child choices, but if they don’t make a choice, let them know that you will make the choice for them. Instead of asking the child to get dressed, ask if they want to put on their shirt or pants first. If they don’t choose, choose for them and help them get dressed. This provides an opportunity for self-discovery balanced with parental authority. Your goal is to convey the message that the choice you make is yours, but making a choice is not optional.

3. Set limits. Toddlerhood can be a time of testing. Kids will push the boundaries and say no as long as they are allowed to.

4. Limit your use of no. Look for alternative ways that convey no. This will help to build your child’s vocabulary and can squelch the theory that children say what they hear. Instead of saying, “No hitting” opt for alternatives like, “We don’t hit” or, “Hands aren’t for hitting.”

5. Pick your battles. It’s a good thing when a child feels that it is safe to say no, so when it’s reasonably acceptable, allow their no to stand. Perhaps they don’t want a mid-day snack. Don’t fight about it. Let them learn about making choices and living with the consequences of their choices.

6. Don’t laugh when a child says no. As cute as it may be the first time, resist the urge to laugh. It only reinforces the behavior.

7. Avoid giving the child the opportunity to say no. If you need your child to get their shoes, suggest a race to the door. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of creative thought to get your child to cooperate. Offering limited choices also takes away the opportunity to say no.

8. Use diversion. Having a childproofed house and anticipating any opportunities where your child may say no can go a long way in limiting the amount of “no’s” that you hear from your child. You won’t have to tell them, “Put the vase down” if it’s not on the table.

9. Use distraction. Children under two can be easily distracted. If they are playing with an item that you want them to give up, offer an alternative. If you’re trying to get an uncooperative kid out of the house, give them something to investigate outside so they’ll come along.

10. Keep a positive attitude. Remember, this phase is temporary. Look at this stage as an intense time of development and help your child maximize their learning experience.

While it can be frustrating for parents who are dealing with a child in the “no” phase, when parents are educated and coached through this stage of development, frustrations can be limited and parents can help their children continue to develop healthy, whole and developmentally on track.

Caron Goode’s, Ed.D., insights are drawn from 15 years in private psychotherapy practice and 30 years of experience
in the fields of education, personal empowerment, and health and wellness. She is the author of 10 books, and the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents, Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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