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Toddlerhood: You Are Entering a World of NO!

Photograph by Twenty20

"Good morning, sweetheart! Would you like some eggs for breakfast?"


"Would you like some cereal?"


"Time to get dressed. Would you like to wear a blue shirt or a purple shirt?"


"I'm going to help you put on your purple shirt and these grey pants."


"Would you like to go to the playground this morning?"


"Do you want to stay home and play instead?"


I think somewhere around 18 months, my daughter should have glared at me crazily like John Goodman in "The Big Lebowski" and warned, "Mommy, you are entering a world of NO!" while waving a fully loaded diaper in my face.

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How else to explain her overnight transformation from a sweet, giggly baby into a grouchy, defiant toddler with only one response to every topic of conversation? No. No. No. And more no. There are a few different variations of this, ranging from "no?" like I'm not really sure, but I think I'm going with no for now, to "NO!!!!" accompanied by wildly flailing limbs and furious tears. But "no" is pretty much the default answer to any question or request.

Somewhere in my tired brain, I remember reading about this phase. It's normal. It's healthy. It has to do with power, emerging autonomy and a sense of independence.

Stay calm. Don't let it rattle you. Be consistent. Blah, blah, blah. Which is all wonderful, except when you're trying to get your stubbornly resistant toddler out of the house to get to preschool, or a doctor's appointment, or that swimming class that you shelled out $150 for, or when it's bedtime and those precious few hours of peace are so close, and you can almost taste that glass of wine, and Oh My God, if I hear the word "no" one more time, I'm going to stab myself in the eye with Sophie the Giraffe!

I think she knows that secretly both choices result in her eating breakfast, getting dressed, or having her diaper changed. Nice try, Mommy!

Ahem. Where was I? Oh right, in the World of NO. And as that somewhat creepy kids song about the bear hunt says, you "can't go over it, can't go under it, can't go around it, got to go through it." The parenting experts all offer solutions for dealing with this oppositional phase. And they might work.

But also, they might not.

Every kid is completely different. So, what works for her kid, his kid, a whole bunch of other kids, might not work for yours. That's totally frustrating, but it's not your fault. It just means you have to try some random, creative, weird techniques with your little bundle of NO, in order to maybe, just maybe, get a YES once in a while.

Here are a few things that have worked and not worked for us, as we navigate the World of NO.

What doesn't work for us:

1) Two Options. It seems like every single parenting book or website presents this as the perfect way to get your toddler to cooperate. Give them two choices. Cereal or eggs? Blue shirt or purple shirt? Diaper change now or in five minutes? Yeah, my daughter considers the two choices and then just screams her favorite word. This approach doesn't seem to give her the sense of control that many experts claim it will. I think she knows that secretly both choices result in her eating breakfast, getting dressed, or having her diaper changed. Nice try, Mommy!

2) The Countdown. We're having so much fun at the playground, honey. You have 10 minutes until we have to go home. Now, you have 5 more minutes. Now, you have 1 more minute. Now, we're leaving. Many toddlers seem to find this kind of preparation reassuring. But not mine. No matter how many early warnings I offer, if my daughter doesn't want to go home, I'm going to get the same negative response.

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What does work:

1) Silly Songs. My daughter is currently obsessed with songs—everything from "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" to The Beatles. It sounds absurd, but making up a silly song about whatever we're doing seems to get her in a positive mood. For example: "Brush McGush is Isabel's name when she's brushing all her teeth…" (to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star). Or "It's time to go to school, it's time to go to school, hi ho the derry-o, it's time to go to school…" (to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell). My silly songs hardly ever rhyme, because, um, I'm not a poet!

2) Take a Picture. A mom friend suggested this one, and it's pretty magical. Your toddler doesn't want to leave somewhere, desperately wants to buy something, won't leave the house without something. Noooooo. Let's take a picture of it! Snapping a photo on your phone allows you to take whatever it is along with you. At any time, you can pull out the photo and discuss what your kid loves SO much about that patch of grass in front of the neighbor's house or that hideous stuffed animal in the drugstore check out line.

If you are in the World of NO right now, I feel your pain. I send you lots of hugs, deep, calming breaths, and supportive vibes. At 21 months, my daughter is still in it and shows zero signs of moving on. In the meantime, we will sing songs about green beans and pants and getting in the car.

Please pass the wine!

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