When All You Hear Is "No!"

You ask your 2-year-old to come to you.

Instead she looks at you, shakes her head, and shouts "No!"

You tell your 18-month-old son to stay out of the cabinet. Looking right at you, he opens the cabinet door.

What do you do? When you face challenges like this in being a parent, remember:

Why Your Child Is Negative

toddler shy

Toddlers and 2-year-olds are learning to think. They have opinions and ideas. They want to do things their own way. They have learned how to say no, and they can physically resist what they don't want. But they are still too young to understand how their actions affect others, to see danger, and to think before they act.

It is important for children to become independent. We want them to grow up to follow their own ideas. But we must keep children safe. We also must teach them to consider the needs of others, to mind parents about important things, and to say no in acceptable ways.

What Is "Normal?"

Children can resist in different ways. As your child becomes more independent, she or he may say no by doing any or all of these things:

You may notice behavior like this beginning around your child's first birthday. It may happen more and more before the second birthday. At this age, most children don't yet have good language skills. They often misunderstand what parents want them to do, and they can't speak many words to express their feelings and needs.

Most children gradually become more cooperative between 3 and 5 years old. They can think and remember better. They learn more about using and listening to words. They get better at controlling their emotions and their behavior. And they learn what adults expect of them.

What You Can Do to Help

You can't keep your child from ever being negative.

Remember, it's a normal part of growing up. But there are ways to help your child and yourself during the "no" years.

Change the situation. A child who is under stress may be more negative than usual. You can help out at times like these.

Protect your child and other people. A child's normal desire to be independent is sometimes dangerous. You need to stop a behavior immediately if it may hurt someone. Talk about how the child feels as you stop the harmful behavior. For example, say, "I know you want the toy, but you can't hit your brother. Hitting hurts." Or say, "I know it is fun to run, but I can't let you run in the street. A car might hit you."

Encourage cooperation. Your child is more likely to do what you say if you use approaches like these:

Take care of yourself. To be an effective parent, you need to think about yourself as well as your child.

If There Is a Real Problem

All children grow and develop in their own ways and at their own speeds.

But some families do face behavior problems that call for outside help. You should be concerned and ask your doctor about getting help if one of these situations is happening:

Getting More Information

There are many books to help you learn more about why toddlers act the way they do. Ask about these books at your local library or bookstore:

Children often like to hear stories about their frustrations. These stories also can help you keep your sense of humor! Try reading these books with your child: