Stop your toddler from always saying no!

Constantly battling with a toddler who refuses to cooperate? Get through the day with as little resistance as possible with our handy tips and advice…

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  • Once your toddler’s learned she can challenge something with the magic ‘no’ word, it quickly becomes her favourite!

    “But it’s completely normal behaviour,” says parenting expert Eileen Hayes. “Your toddler is learning to gain independence – she’s so used to being controlled that once she understands she has a bit of power she sees it as a great opportunity to have her say.”

    But how do you get through your day without going into meltdown? From getting dressed to eating veg, we tell you how to cope when she says, “No, I won’t” to…

  • … getting dressed

    Your toddler still needs your help to get dressed and it can sometimes turn into bedlam if she refuses to cooperate. And then there’s the coat/shoe/hat battle once you’ve got the clothes on.

    “In an ideal world it’d be great to give your toddler a choice of two tops so she feels like she has some control, or turn putting her coat on into a game, but if you’re rushing out the door this might not be a realistic option,” says Eileen.

    “Don’t be scared to tell her she can’t have her way – you may end up with tears but sometimes it’s necessary if you’re in a rush. But do explain to her that if it happens again you’ll give her more time to choose which of the two tops she’d like to put on,” she adds.

    Mum’s tip

    “I get Ramyjot to put her coat and shoes on by sitting her on the stairs and playing ‘This Little Piggy’ on her toes then slipping her shoes on. We do the same with the hands and then pretend to look for her fingers once the coat is on. Since making it fun, we’ve had a lot less ‘no’ from her when it comes to getting out the door.”

    Mangla Sachdev, 30, from Middlesex, mum to Premjyot, 5, and Ramjyot, 2.

  • … turning off the TV

    You sit your toddler in front of CBeebies while you’re doing some chores, but it ends up backfiring when you can’t persuade her to turn it off. And it’s even more of a problem if you need to go out.

    “If you’re in a rush, don’t set yourself up for a potential battle by giving your toddler something she might view as a treat before you need to go out,” says Lorraine Thomas, author of The Mummy Coach.

    “But if you do find yourself in this situation, stay calm and talk your toddler through what you’re doing – don’t just turn it off and drag her out.

    “Instead, motivate her to want to come out by making the next activity sound like a fun adventure. And if there’s a next time make sure you have a giant egg timer so she has a visual idea of when the TV has to be turned off,” she adds.

  • … getting in the buggy

    Juggling a walking toddler and heavy bags of shopping can be hard work, so sometimes it’s necessary for her to have some buggy time. But how do you get her in if she’s wailing “No, no, no!” at the top of her voice?

    “If your toddler needs to be in her buggy for safety reasons – if you’re crossing a busy road, for example – there’s no room to compromise. Make it calm, firm and show your toddler you mean it without getting angry,” says Eileen Hayes.

    “By telling her she has to get in but that you’ll let her get out again when you get to the next shop should help to soothe the situation.”

    Mum’s tip

    “We’ve been experiencing a lot of ‘no’ when we attempt to put Ella back in the pushchair once she’s had a bit of freedom. Instead of wrestling with her, I hold her close, look in her eyes and quietly explain why I’m putting her back in and where we’re going next, using that as the incentive for why she needs to get in. Sometimes I have to repeat myself, but I refuse to bribe her with food or other treats.”

    Karin Joyce, 39, from Cambridgeshire, mum to Ella, 18 months.

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  • … eating veg

    You lovingly prepare a family meal, but it all turns sour when your toddler creates a scene at the table by refusing to eat her greens.

    “As long as your child is eating a balanced diet, there’s no need to worry too much about what she doesn’t like. It doesn’t matter if she never eats green beans as long as she eats broccoli,” says Eileen, who’s been working with SMA Nutrition to advise parents on their tricky toddlers’ eating habits.

    “If you’re going to offer a new type of veg, always offer it alongside something she does like as that way she’s more likely not to refuse it.”

    Mum’s tip

    “I haven’t given my toddlers the option of not eating veg by never saying, ‘You must eat your veg.’ Instead I say ‘You must eat everything,’ as by making a big deal of eating just the veg they’re more likely to refuse it. They’re also given small portions of everything and have to eat what they’ve been given if they want pudding.”

    Melissa Bendall, 29, from West Sussex, mum to Isabelle, 5, Lily, 3, and Charlie, 8 months.

  • … hair washing

    Soapy wet hair isn’t appealing, so you can hardly blame your tot for saying no to this one. But, unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil, so how do you get it done as stress-free as possible?

    “There are a few things you can try – let her wash her doll’s hair or let her have a go at washing her own. She’ll need some help, but it’s a way of her feeling in control,” says Eileen. “You could also try letting her wash yours (if you’re feeling brave!), as it will show her it’s not that bad after all.”

    Mum’s tip

    “Rachel always screams ‘no’ at me when I try to wash her hair. She’s getting better since I let her help me do it, but I realised that I was trying to wash it too often. It only really needs washing once a week, unless she spills something on it, and not every other day as I was doing it. This instantly cut the number of battles down to one a week instead of the usual four.”

    Hayley Down, 33, from London, mum to Rachel, 3.

  • … cleaning her teeth

    If you have a toddler who’ll willingly brush her teeth then count your lucky stars as lots of toddlers kick up a fuss at the very sight of a toothbrush.

    “Apart from letting your toddler be involved in choosing her toothbrush, there are other things you can try too. Let her see you brush your teeth so you’re leading by example and always let her have a go at doing it herself first before you launch in and get the job done properly,” says Eileen.

    Rewarding your toddler with stickers for brushing her teeth will help too,” adds Lorraine Thomas. “But make sure you keep the chart in the bathroom and give her the sticker right after she’s done it so she connects the two.”

  • What if she says no to everything?

    • Only tackle one area at a time. Dealing properly with one issue a week is enough. If you try to master successful teeth brushing, getting dressed and eating veg all at once you’re likely to fail at all of them.
    • Be positive. Tell your toddler what you do want and not what you don’t. For example, say ‘I want you to listen to what mummy wants you to do’ instead of ‘Stop saying no’.
    • Use statements, not questions ‘We’re going to brush our teeth now,’ is more effective than ‘Will you brush your teeth?’
    • Be a role model. If you’re always saying ‘no’ then your tot will think it’s OK too. So make sure you’re saying ‘yes’ more than ‘no’ and praise her when she gets it right.


    From The Mummy Coach by Lorraine Thomas.

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