Most parents find the word "No" creeps into their vocabulary very quickly once their toddler starts boundary testing. This is most likely around 14 -18 months. A toddler is designed to test and your job as a parent is to rein in certain behaviours, not desirable or just plain dangerous.
Impulse control is something toddlers struggle with and sometimes they will do things just because it felt too good to resist. They knew a consequence would occur as a result of their impulsive behaviour but the temptation was too darned enticing.
How to communicate with your toddler
So how can you help them without resorting to the "No" word?
Use eye contact and be close to them and at their eye level when you are communicating with your little one.
Using "No" too often can desensitize a child to its meaning, so save the word for life-threatening situations instead. Use short, clear and concise phrases to explain why your toddler or child shouldn't do something.
Try some of these 10 short sentences to substitute for "No"
- I want ice cream! Or lollies or any other treat – Try instead "I know you like ice cream, but eating too much is not good for you." You may then get a "Why?" so be ready with a very good reason, "Just because" is nowhere near good enough, then be ready to offer a healthier alternative.
- "I’d like you to STOP doing X and do Y instead." Repeat the instruction after 10 seconds and stay by their side. If you get non-compliance say "Lets go to our chill out space together" and guide them to it. This is "time in" and allows for calming down and re-connection.
- "Food is for eating not for throwing on the floor" – Take the dish away calmly as you say this. Once they agree to eat it can be returned, however if it happens again at this mealtime it’s taken away and no snack offered or given later no matter how worried you are that they won’t sleep because of hunger. It is important that you follow through and don't wuss out!
- "Beds are for sleeping and relaxing, not for jumping" – When you get this behaviour at bedtime, wait 10 seconds then repeat the instruction. If the jumping/behaviour carries on after you repeat the instruction one more time then it’s time for chill out for a few minutes. This can be a sign that they are either under tired or overtired. Keep to the house rules and within a week this behaviour should have stopped.
- 'It’s okay to be angry, but I won’t let you hit. We need to keep everyone safe." Creates a boundary
- "The house rules are… " instead of, "I want you to do X." Using the house rules dilutes the finger pointing and the risk of confrontation.
- If they’re having a big meltdown choice of “I’m going to stay right here by you until you’re ready for a hug.” Or “I can see that you’re very angry and I’m going to let you calm down in your own time," then walk away to diffuse the tantrum.
- Instead of “Stop saying ‘No!” Try this: “I hear you saying ‘No.’ I understand you do not want this. Let’s figure out what we can do differently.”
- When he knocks over a block tower say, "Don't knock down Jack’s tower. Let me show you how to play instead." If your child hears you reflect out loud what he should want and feel, this will help raise his self-awareness and feel seen, heard, and understood. This is empathy. Ask if you can join in and model/show him the proper way to play with others.
- Your child pulls a plant out of the garden or a bloom off a stem. "Flowers need to grow. Let's be gentle". We need to help the child develop empathy and this is a great way to demonstrate this. Talk about how living things feel in relation to how he would feel if the same happened to him. When you hurt the flower (or cat or dog), you hurt its feelings and it won't be able to grow into a big x, y or z.
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