The “No” Stage of Toddlerhood

Like most toddlers no is my little one’s word of choice. Sometimes she whispers it softly.

Would you like a banana?

“Do you want some milk?”

Other times she says it with force: “Nooo!”

In these instances it’s often her response to our telling her to stop a certain behavior, say — coloring on the furniture. Or because we told her it was time to get out of the bath or bedtime and she’s not ready.

And then there are those times when her actions say yes and still her words are still; “No no no.”

Do you like the ice cream? (Shaking her head.) “No.”

“Ice cream,” she’ll then say as she leans in for another spoonful.

Do you want to listen to music? “No.” (Pointing to the radio.)

I have to say having a toddler tell you no whether gently or with her brows burrowed and arms crossed is sort of humbling for me.


I had forgotten that stage, which is shocking to the occasional spectator, is completely normal. Expected even. A step on the road of child development. And that doesn’t bother me. Well-meaning family members yes. But for me not too much.

Even so, these days we try to give her other words or suggest a “no thank you.” Other times we redirect and move on. We also try not to excessively use the word no when she’s engaging in behaviors synonymous with toddlerhood.

See for me, the thing is, that I know the ability to say no is almost like a superpower that many of us mamas grow up and wish we had. At 30 years old I still sometimes struggle to say no. It’s the people pleaser part of me. I don’t want to upset or disappoint.

But my little one — she possesses an ability to stand firm and say no. Oh and if only I could assert myself the way my toddler asserts herself.

Over time my hope is to teach her that while sometimes her no’s will have to be stern and the eyebrow burrowing perhaps necessary, there are times when a “no” coupled with kindness and grace gets the point across rather well.

For now, we’ll continue to navigate the world of no. She and I. Me doing what I can to help her preserve this super power for good of course – her good, the good of those around her.

And when I’m in the store aisle or at birthday party and hear another toddler telling their mommy “no,” I will turn and smile with a smile that says:

No I’m not judging you. And no, you’re not alone.

What about you? How do you handle your little one’s use of the word no?

Tagged as:
Add to the conversation