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Creative Ways to Say “No” to a Toddler
If you have a toddler in your house, you know that the word “no” can cause an epic meltdown in less than three seconds. But the good news is that some meltdowns can be avoided if you get creative with how you say “no.” When you say “no,” that sensitive brain of your toddlers hears the word “NEVER,” so here are some ways to say “no” without making your precious little one think that it’s the end of the world.
One great way to avoid a meltdown, especially with an older toddler, is to postpone your “yes” instead of just saying “no.” For instance, my son is currently going through a phase where he wants to wear his pajamas ALL. THE. TIME. While that’s technically not a big deal, he creates a lot of extra laundry for me because any time he’s had to wear real clothes to preschool or out running errands, he wants to change into his pajamas as soon as he gets home (and then wants to put on a fresh pair of pajamas before bed, of course). Since it’s hard to keep up with the laundry demands of a family of five, I would refuse to let him change, especially if he was already wearing comfortable clothes. And of course, this would lead to a lovely tantrum. But I finally found a way to say “no” to him that he could swallow. Now when he asks to change into his pajamas, I’ll say something like “you can change after dinner” or “you can put your pajamas on when Daddy puts his on.” I’m essentially denying his request to change clothes, but he sees it as a postponed “yes” and is less likely to get upset.
Offer a Choice
It’s tough being a toddler. Developmentally, they’re capable of thinking through the things that they want and don’t want, what they like and don’t like, but they often don’t have the skills to communicate these things to their parents. This often leads them to feel like they have no control over their own lives, and surely you as an adult can understand how frustrating that feels. So when it’s possible, try offering your child a choice instead of saying “no.” For instance, if your child asks for a cookie when he gets home from that birthday party where he chowed down on cake and ice cream, try offering him a choice between two healthy snacks. You can say something like this: “You ate a lot of sweet treats at that party, so let’s choose a healthy snack. Would you like a banana or some raisins?” If you use this tactic, often your toddler will hear you giving him the chance to have some control over his life and will be less likely to get upset about being denied of his original request.
I don’t like to use this tactic very often, but there are certainly times when it’s useful. For example, if it’s time to leave a friend’s house and your child is begging to stay, instead of just saying “no” (especially if you want to avoid an embarrassing tantrum in front of the mom of your child’s BFF), you can say, “We need to go home and eat lunch, but you can have a picnic lunch in front of the TV when we get home. Doesn’t that sound like fun?!” or “You don’t have time to color another picture before nap time, but I’ll leave your crayons and coloring book right here so you can color some more when you get up from your nap!” Toddlers are easily distractible, so dangling something else interesting and fun in front of their noses can often help to stem the tide of a meltdown. Just be careful to use this tactic carefully and frugally because it can quickly snowball into Mama offering bribes all the time instead of teaching that tiny dictator how to comply.
And of course, sometimes you’ll just have to give your toddler a firm “no.” After all, YOU are the adult in the situation, but using some of these tactics when the occasion calls for it can make life easier for you and your child.