What to Do When Your Toddler "Won't Take No for an Answer!"

Toddlers Perspectives:

"No" is the best word ever.
I want what I want, and I want it now.

Screaming "No" feels good. 
You can't tell me what to do.
I'll say "No" for as long as I want.

I want to share a story to remind you it is possible to set limits with toddlers compassionately.

It's not an easy task.

You're worn out, tired, and have other children to attend to, but you can guide your little ones back to positive behaviors (instead of demanding) if you step outside your agenda just long enough to find the compassion to consider their experience.

Acknowledging the validity of their feelings and showing understanding for their needs and expectations is how you create shared meaning and emotional connections.

Once kids feel connected and develop the maturity to meet your expectations, your influence, opinions, and ideas will be valued and considered. 

Keeping your eye on your long-term goals will help you stay regulated when your toddler isn't.

So the story goes -

I was attending a family dinner at the home of my mother and step-father, who are exceptionally indulgent grandparents.

They heap love on their grandchildren in every way, and that includes allowing all kinds of sweets and treats to which Mom or Dad might ordinarily say, "No!"

My nephew knows and expects this, and as soon as he arrived, he headed straight for the candy cabinet.

He was poised to climb his way to the familiar location on the top shelf in my parent's kitchen when he heard my mother sternly call from the dining room, "No cookies, we're about to have dinner." 

The little guy protested as any proper, determined two-year-old would and pushed through us both, stampeding the cabinets.

A few more emphatic "No's!" from my mother swiftly incited his fury. His eyes narrowed, his face crumpled face, and with an unpleasant grunt, he threw himself on the floor.

It was enough to frustrate my mother into submission, but before she gave in to his whim, I stepped in to try and help.

My goal was not to try and stop or contain my nephew's disappointment but to connect and empathize with his experience.

"I want cookies," he cried.

"I know you want cookies! They're your favorite." 

I sat down on the floor and slid next to him.

He folded his arms and looked away letting me know he was not prepared to talk, and especially not ready to move to problem-solving.

He was still mad. He felt it in his body and showed me he was not interested in listening to any logical explanations.

He stomped his feet. I stomped mine (not in mockery, but in an attempt to show him my understanding).

“You're mad! Stomping my feet feels good. Helps me get the mad out."

He looked at me inquisitively and stomped again. 

"You were expecting cookies. Mom-Mom always gives you cookies when you come over. I can tell you're upset that you can't have any."

"Unnnhh!" he squinted his eyes at me (I intuited through the softening of his body language that this was his way of showing agreement).

"It's not fair!" I agreed.

I stayed with him in this space - g
ently blocking his attempts to reach the cabinet, and affirming his frustration with an understanding tone and short phrases like -

“We can’t have cookies right now."
"I can see you're upset."
"I won't let you climb the cabinets."
"I will help you.”
"Tell me more."

After three or four minutes (which seems like a LONG time - but it isn't, so be patient with your kids) he settled enough for me to eye an opening, and I jumped through it.
"We're going to have the yummy dinner Pop-Pop made! Will you help me set the table?" H
e cheerfully jumped at the invitation to contribute and cooperate.

Because I stayed with him through his discomfort (instead of convincing him out of it), he was able to come to a place of acceptance about having "no cookies" and was soon ready to move on.

Looking deeper at what was driving his behavior, I noticed his preference for the cookie was real, but his REAL NEED was about recreating the experience he had come to expect and enjoy - the specialness of coming to Mom-Mom's house for fun treats. 

Whether his need was for nostalgia, sameness, comfort, connection - once I re-focused on his feelings, and not blindly determined to deal with the "cookie problem," he was able to shift.

I want to emphasize that limits were set and boundaries enforced, but there was no need for shame, blame, or threats to induce him to comply, and I didn't waste time arguing or convincing, legitimizing, or rationalizing with a small child who just needed time to process.

You can say "NO" and stick to it lovingly.

Don't be offended or flustered by your child's reaction to the boundaries you set.

The processing of emotion manifests in many ways, and humans are unique in their tolerance and temperament. 

It takes time.

It is not an attack on your parenting or your authority when kids protest your limits.

Persistence is a valuable trait.  It is what we need to endure setbacks and follow through to our goals, in spite of the opposition. However, it can fail to develop if we deny, discount or refuse to show compassion for our kids when we set limits.

Educate your children about better strategies when they are calm and regulated instead of in the heat of the moment. 

Give them a chance to settle their emotions and resolve the internal conflict they feel, and they will surprise you with incredible resilience and resourcefulness.

Have a story, idea or thoughts about this? Share your perspectives in the comments below.

Thank you for reading and please remember, it's about being conscious - not perfect!

Talk soon,

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