No I Don’t Want To

On a busy weekday morning in a typical family home, parents of two young children are getting ready to go to work on time. Their baby has been fed and changed and ready for child care. But their almost three
year old, Millie is not going anywhere!

Millie had a difficult time rousing this morning which made her parents anxious. She refused to get out of bed and get dressed for school. This of course, caused a delay in the morning routine thereby having a snowball effect of not being able to leave the house on time before dropping off the kids to school, and getting in late for work.

Although young children like Millie can internalize general schedules, they don’t understand time constraints and the need to rush on demand. As adults, we have an external agenda for the day – meetings to attend and deadlines to comply with. But children work in response to their internal agenda. They are being internally propelled by their natural developmental periods. They have no time constraints and enjoy living in the moment. Asking a two or three year old to comply on demand with time constraints can sometimes be difficult and may surely be met with resistance.

Toddlers can sense frayed emotions and can exert their will thereby showing non-compliance. And of course, their favorite word when asked to hurry and conform is “NO”, “I DON’T WANT TO.” Every parent and preschool teacher is familiar with this phrase. Although it indicates their resistance to following adult directives, exerting their budding will is a normal part of toddler development.

Two year olds are developing their identity and undergoing psychological changes to coincide with their natural developmental periods. They are learning to exert their independence and are also learning that they have the ability to exert their will over others. They are ready to assist when asked to help but resist when redirected with “No.”

Providing freedom within boundaries which have to be maintained is important for young children. Allowing a child rampant freedom and giving in to her/his displeasure when limits are set sends them a message that it is okay to bend the rules. Teaching compliance and setting limits by offering two or perhaps three choices is best. Consistency is the key and not being swayed by a few tears now will go a long way in teaching the child that rules set by parents must be followed. Navigating two year olds towards our acceptable choices allows for positive outcomes and will go a long way to create peace and harmony in the home with less tears and more compliance. As the child gets older, s/he will have a clear understanding of the boundaries you have set and will be content with the freedom within them.

Preferred Phrases to Use Around Toddlers:

  • I need some help with………….
  • Let’s do this together ……….
  • Please help me find ………….

Instead of No:

  • I’m busy right now, let’s do it when the (timer, bell, song etc.) is done …………
  • Can we do …………. as soon as I’m done
  • I will be with you as soon as …………
  • I’m busy with ……………. but I can watch/see you. Would you like that?

There are no compromises on physical safety – use simple words toddlers understand:

  • Stop
  • You may not
  • I don’t like that
  • Don’t touch that etc.

It is important to explain briefly after the incident that the behavior may cause physical harm and is
dangerous and when mom or dad says “stop” they must listen.

“No, thank you” does not convey a direct message to toddlers to stop. It is suitable for adult interaction.

Why you should say “yes” to the “no” phase

Toddlerhood is a developmental powder keg for children. As Kathryn Smerling, a New York City–based
family psychologist, explains, “They’re experiencing the most rapid brain development of their lives
throughout this period—a whopping 700 new neural connections every second.”

Two year olds are learning that they are independent and have the ability to exert themselves. They learn rules about their behaviors and how to navigate this new found independence in all aspects of their lives. They are as we call them at LMS not Terrible Two’s but Terrific Two’s – they do however need boundaries to be able to forge healthy relationships.

Toddlers are just learning to understand spoken language and their capacity for verbal communication is limited. They do however communicate with their bodies and can readily use it to get their way. Long, wordy conversations with toddlers are not realistic. They are not yet ready to process a lot of spoken language. Short and concise phrases they are familiar with makes them understand our requests better.

Some helpful pointers:

  • Toddlers love to help – this is an easy way to go from “No” to “Yes.”
  • Toddlers can make a choice from a limited offering of 2 – 3 suggestions
  • Toddlers react to adult responses – don’t react right away – step back and observe and ask your toddler s/he would like help
  • Don’t react to every melt down. Provide reassurance from a distance. “When you can use your words” “when you are done crying, I’m right here”
  • Don’t allow the child to “call you” by crying
  • Employ the art of distraction – “oh did you see the big bird?” “Do you hear the fire truck?” etc
  • Say “yes” sometimes, many times! Show your child that s/he is making choices you are happy with. “I like that”, “thank you for helping wear your shoes all by yourself” etc. is much better than a generic “good job” and “No, I don’t want to” becomes “Yes – I am capable!”

— admin