Why Does My Toddler always say "NO"

Updated: May 17

You've heard it many times, probably all day long, your little darling saying "NO" to you, over and over and over again. Although this can be very frustrating for you as a parent, this its actually a good thing. WHY is that, I hear you ask??

It's a completely normal and healthy part of child development

In the grand scheme of things, its a short term problem and it isn't something worth getting your knickers in a twist over - but if you knickers are currently knotted, keep reading how you can help yourself when the going gets tough.

When does the "NO" phase begin and WHY does it happen?

This phase normally starts around the age of 2, sometimes a little earlier but 2 is a very common age for children to start to display signs of assertiveness and growing independence.

Your child is beginning to have a preference over what happens in their lives as opposed to what doesn't happen - you have to remember - this age group are always being told what to do and when, so if they can gain some control over what is going on, they will take it.

They have also learnt from an early age that the word no, has a little power to it, how many times a day do you say No? They learn this word from us and what it ultimately means.

I am reminding you again, that this is indeed a good thing! We want our children to gain independence long term, and it has to start somewhere, this is a POSITIVE THING.

In some cases, we can change a toddlers reaction by changing how we word things to them


You are getting ready to run out the door to get to pre-school. Instead of saying, "Do you want to put your shoes on?" you would say, "It is time to get your shoes on" you are then offering a directive, which allows for you to follow through with the task that has to be done even if they say No. When you ask if it's something that they want to do you are giving them the option to say no, which only results in more tears, when you have to follow through anyway, as they thought they had a say / choice in the matter.

Why does my child say "NO" to me more than other family members ?

I hear many parents say "This seems like defiant behaviour, and they are always saying "NO" to me." A grandparent, daycare provider, and Aunt or Uncle, may not see this as much as Mum, or Dad. Often these behaviours are aimed at their "Safe Circle" as I like to call it, the people who are closest to them, and who they feel the closet too.

Think about this in terms of yourself. If you are going to dig your heels in about something, or get irritated in front of someone, who will you likely do this in front of?

A) The people you are closest with, because you know that they are always going to love you unconditionally.

B) Jill who works behind the counter at your favourite coffee shop.

If you think about marriage, if you're going to be ratty with somebody, it's likely going to be your spouse, the same goes for your child, its all down to emotions.

What can I do when my child says "NO"?

  1. Don't take it seriously or to heart, they are not being naughty or defiant, they are expressing their wants, likes, dislikes

  2. Get them on side, when you have done this or when you have done that and I can help you, we can do A,B,C,D

  3. Ignore the No, if it wasn't a question to them and use a distraction

  4. Sometimes they don't even know they are saying No, its automatic.

  5. Validate how they are feeling, as in, 'I hear what you are telling me, you don't want to go but we have to insert what has to be done, I will help you get your shoes on.

In a bigger picture, there are going to be times when you will be happy that your child has said NO, in fact I can guarantee there will be a time where you still say - 'but why didn't you say NO', we want our children to be able to say YES and NO - and they have to start that learning process somewhere and as our are the biggest teacher, it often starts with you.

Dawn Whittaker is a Professional Parenting Coach, Mum of 3, and former nanny - Need help with your toddler? Book a quick fix, a chat through zoom with some email support to get you through the tough times.

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