If you’re totally exhausted by your toddler saying no all the time, you’re not alone. But, even when their refusal to co-operate is impolite and causes embarrassment – such as when they refuse to hug a relative - before you chastise your mini naysayer you might want to remember that…

  1. ‘No’ offers kids control
    It is possible that your child is simply saying no to get a reaction, but that’s not always the case. “There are different types of no’s, and various ways of handling each kind,” says Dr Rose Logan, clinical psychologist at the Lighthouse Arabia. “Just to be clear, we’re not talking about kids saying no to everyday must-do’s – like brushing their teeth or bathing. While all no’s should be respected, you don’t have to agree with all of them. Your child exerting his or her right to preference is fine if it is something that won’t harm them or have longer-term or widespread consequences. In fact, it is appropriate for children to feel that they have control over what happens in their life and to learn how to be assertive.”
  2. Saying no teaches children boundaries
    Dr Logan says that most toddlers go through a no phase in the fairly early language development stage – usually between 18–24 months. It’s not to drive people nuts – although it can – and it's not always to test parents, although pushing mum and dad’s buttons is actually a healthy part of a child’s development. “Saying no is one of the first direct ways your child exerts influence,” Dr. Logan explains. “While this can be infuriating – and met with annoyance or frustration by adults – it’s an important part of growth. Once children have worked out that no gets them a reaction, they might try it out in many situations, even when they don’t really mean it, with some kids starting to say no earlier, others later, and others finding different ways of exerting their influence altogether. Whatever the case, try to be patient.”

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  3. It can empower parents
    If there’s something that you feel is non-negotiable when it comes to the word no, it’s important to have that conversation with your child. What can sometimes happen is that in a parent’s desire to say yes, or to please their child, they forget that they also have parental responsibility, and that doesn’t always make them the fun parent. “It is important for parents to have a clear view of their values and how they would like to parent,” Dr. Logan says. “This will give them the space from which to discuss various no situations while empathising and giving a clear explanation as to their reasoning. If you do disagree with your child’s no, you should explain why and help your child recognise that that there are some things that they are asked to do because you feel it is in their best interest, or because it is a requirement of your culture or religion. Make it clear that there may be some things that they don’t like doing or don’t want to do, like eating broccoli or brushing their teeth, and then there are other things that feel bad or hurtful. When it is the latter, it is always ok to say no.”
  4. Saying no gives kids self-confidence
    Whatever the reason for one saying no, you’re never doing little ones any favours when you tell and show them that no is naughty or unimportant. By forcing kids to hug people or share when they say no, for example, you are teaching them that their bodies and their things can be demanded by others, whether they like it or not, if they say no or not. “Our children have the right to say no to things they do not feel comfortable doing,” Dr. Logan says. “But that might not always fit in with social expectations and can be embarrassing. It’s easy to be angry or frustrated with your child, but it’s important to give them a chance to talk about why they said no and then to think about the consequences of that and what they might do the next time they are in the same or similar situations. These conversations are probably best left for a quiet and private moment. Giving your child a choice in situations that they are finding hard, and being sensitive to their needs, means that they can go with what feels comfortable to them in that moment and then figure out what to do next time, which will help to build self-confidence. Teaching children how to be assertive means that they will learn how to say no or to communicate what they want or need in a manner that does not upset others.”
  5. Respecting your kids’ no’s teaches them to respect others

It’s important for children to know that their no holds the same power as someone else’s, and that we all have to respect each other’s wishes. All too often bullies and abusers – who often don't respect the word, probably because they weren't taught to – take advantage of those who have been taught to people please, or who feel uncomfortable saying no. “Adults modelling respect and manners in their own interactions with others – including their spouses, even when they are disagreeing or saying no – is a brilliant way for children to internalise how we would like them to be with people, and is the most powerful way to teach kids how to respect others,” Dr. Logan says. “We can also talk to our children and help them understand why someone may have said no, and encourage them to reflect on the other person’s feelings or intentions. We all know that things don’t have to feel good to be good, and teaching children that a no can sometimes be in their or someone else’s best interest can be tricky when they feel upset or disappointed. If this happens, soothe them and empathise, then use the situation as a discussion point.”

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Five tips to tweak your parenting style or language to respect your child’s no’s (without raising a total brat)

  1. Empathise with and validate your child’s feelings, even if you don’t agree or understand.
  2. Explain why you disagree or agree, and link this to family values and rules.
  3. When you can, allow your child to exert their independence and preference.
  4. Try to minimise your own use of the word no by turning no statements into positive statements. So, instead of saying “no, you can’t have milk now”, say “take a bath and then you can have your milk” instead.
  5. Offer your kids choices where possible, and keep the boundaries clear and consistent when you can’t.

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