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Dealing with a defiant toddler

Why your child resists your authority, and what you should do about it.

"No!" There are few words a toddler is apt to use more frequently—or more forcefully.

In fact, your child may be so fond of this word that "no" is his or her first response to almost anything, even a push on a swing.

That's certainly a downside of life with a toddler. But do your best to keep your child's emotions in perspective.

When your child says no, what he or she is really saying is, "I want to feel more in control," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Your child is also testing to see if you're serious.

So the next time your child refuses a request, don't overreact. Instead, repeat your request calmly and clearly, advises the AAP. If you need to, take some deep breaths first.

You might also try to distract your child. For example, you could say, "Let's go look at the clouds outside," if your child is refusing to go with you on an errand.

Remember, too, that conflicts are an unavoidable part of parenting. Even so, there are steps you can take to reduce the number of times you hear "no" in a day.

Try these tips from the AAP:

  • When you ask your child to do something, use a friendly voice. And don't forget to preface your request with "please."
  • Choose your battles carefully. Your child is less likely to defy you if you focus on things that are a true priority, such as staying safely buckled in a car seat. If you say no all day long, your child will likely rebel.
  • Finally, offer your youngster choices whenever it's reasonable. Let your child choose which book you'll read at night, which toy to take on a play date and so forth. By allowing your child to have control, you'll make it more likely that he or she will say yes to things that are important.
  • reviewed 9/3/2019

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