When It’s Easier to Say No: Dealing with the Wishes of a Toddler

My daughter is a great kid when she is having fun. But the minute the fun ends she explodes with anger, and sometimes a full blown temper tantrum. It really lowers my desire to do any kind of special fun activity with her, whether that’s a walk to the park, or allowing her a little bit of TV time. The end result is always the same. This makes me want to say no to everything.

She asks for a snack and I give her some trail mix. She asks for more chocolate chips when she has picked them all out of the mix and I tell her no, but she may have something else. Screaming ensues. We play outside for an hour or two and the time has come to go in for whatever reason (bedtime, naptime, dinner, baby needs to be changed, etc), and she refuses to move, eventually resulting in being dragged indoors. I let her watch one episode (or two or three) of Veggie Tales and when it’s over and she melts down completely, as though I never let her do anything.

I can’t seem to find a balance between saying no to every activity that might produce a tantrum when it’s over and saying yes because I feel guilty that I’m always saying no. I hope that this is a phase that will get easier as she gets older, but as we approach her third birthday it feels like a permanent personality change and I find myself wondering what happened to my sweet little girl.

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4 thoughts on “When It’s Easier to Say No: Dealing with the Wishes of a Toddler

  1. We are just starting to enter this territory with our daughter. It is “bang your head on the wall” frustrating at times.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. My son is like this also. I’ve been reading some books on it lately, (about spirited children) and so far I’ve implemented some things that have really worked wonders: 1) giving warnings before transitions. This is huge for kids like them. Sometimes multiple warnings are necessary. My son is 4 so he’s able to verbalize understanding, not sure if this wouldve happened when he was 3, but anyway- I’ll keep reminding him that something is almost over, or I’ll give a reminder every few minutes like a countdown “this will be over in 5 minutes and then we’re shutting off the tv, ok? Do you understand?” and I make sure he vocalizes understanding. This has helped tremendously. 2) Having the next activity lined up helps too. Even if it’s something he’ll be doing alone, I’ll say “..and then we’re going to play with your trains, ok? ” and I’ll play with him for the first few mins before slipping away to do the dishes or whatever. Some days he needs me more than others. 3) tone is a big deal. He’s very sensitive and if he senses my anger or anxiety it makes him anxious and more tantrum-prone as well. If I stay calm and offer lots of hugs and smiles and encouragement and loving words, he’s much more cooperative.
    I could see him doing something like that with the trail mix. When I’m giving him a food I know he’ll overindulge in, I tell him right off the bat that this is all he’s getting. Or I’ll break into three servings so when he keeps coming back for more he actually thinks he’s getting more. His verbalizing understanding is important for all of this to work. It doesn’t prevent tantrums completely but they are much fewer and farther between.
    I’m not an authoritarian. I want my kids to do the right thing because they WANT to, not because they’re afraid of me or feel like they have no choice (I believe that breeds eventual rebellion). With these kinds of kids it takes more emotional work on our part, but in the end the investment will pay off.
    The blog “aha parenting” is also a very good resource.
    Hang in there!

  3. My daughter is one month younger than yours, but we are definitely in the same child-rearing stage.

    I like Stephanie’s suggestion of warning the child that they’re about to change activities. We did that with my son (now 4) and it worked well with his personality.

    However, my daughter is a completely different game altogether. With the rebellion and tantrums, she’s trying to “fight” you for authority. As a parent, we must stand firm in our ordained position and the child must learn that there are consequences to disobeying authority.

    We first tried 3 strikes with our daughter, but she was too young to completely grasp the concept. We now use time outs for the first offense and a spanking for the second (if there is one). Using the example of the trail mix, if she comes back for more and you say no and she throws a fit, that’s an immediate time out. By not having consequences to their behavior, we’re teaching them that it’s ok to do whatever they want and for whatever reason.

    We’ve noticed GREATLY that when we ‘slack off’ on our discipline strategy, our daughter’s behavior becomes more and more out of control. I like to think of the child as wandering aimlessly on the street, going from side to side, not knowing where exactly to go. We are the curbs, gently yet effectively encouraging them to go in the right direction. A yes here, a no there… and punishment if they veer too far off the path.

    Sometimes it is easier to say no, but saying no because we’re angry is the wrong reason. We must say no when it will negatively affect their behavior. Too much chocolate or too much TV are good reasons to say no. You say “as though you never let her do anything” – this assumes that she can reason at our level, and she can’t. She only sees her actions and what happens when she does them. If there’s no discipline, her action will continue.

    Hang in there!! She won’t be a toddler/preschooler forever!!

    1. My daughter definitely has a strong personality with a strong-willed streak. One of the mixed blessings of her being so smart (I swear I’m not bragging here, she is rather advanced for her age verbally and on other mental levels), is that she has learned how to manipulate really well. We tried giving her some warning when fun activities are going to end. For example: yesterday we were getting ready to leave my parents’ house after a day of fun. I told her that once Daddy was finished packing the car it would be time to go. At first she cried, but then her grandfather walked her to the car and belted her in. For once there was no crying and screaming on the way home. Mostly just talking about how fun the day was. I think consistency is definitely a struggle for most parents, especially when you have more than one. Ideally I would drop everything to discipline her but sometimes I’m in the midst of caring for her newborn brother and I’m forced to choose, at least for the moment. Time-outs seem to have some effect because she hates being isolated (the little extrovert). I’ve also learned to recognize complete exhaustion and see it for what it is rather than as defiance. I’m also trying to give explanations in as close to her language as possible (even though I know she won’t understand yet, eventually she will). Recently I asked her if she knows that Mommy loves her (she said, yes). Then I told her that if she plays in the sun too long she will get sick and Mommy doesn’t want her to get sick. (The concept of sunburn or sun exhaustion are too complex so we’ll settle for the ambiguous “sick”). She was still upset but she didn’t throw a fit. Thanks for the encouragement. I know each phase has its own challenges. Soon we’ll be on to the next one.

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