You’ve seen it. You’re at a store and a stranger’s kid throws a tantrum. You cringe and think to yourself, “My kids will never be like that!”

Well, I’m sure that’s how you probably thought before you had kids. But once you have kids, you realize that your kid tantrum number can be called at any time like a Hunger Games tribute. Perhaps at this time you realize the perfection model child you had in your head is a distant memory… and you really don’t know what to do.

If you are anything like me, you overcompensate (like the typical type A person or type A parent.) Suddenly you are watching your toddler like a hawk, barking orders at your toddler, making sure they do exactly what they are supposed to do.

Well, if that wasn’t you, that was totally me, and I hated it. I felt like a drill sergeant. No one wins when you are in that situation. First you start out saying things like…

Don’t do that!


Get away!

You finally just start saying NO to absolutely everything to save time and syllables.

According to experts, parents are saying no a total of 400 times a day. Studies have shown that when parents say no too much, they harm their children because language skills aren’t being broadened.

“No” as a concept

But more importantly, kids under three don’t understand “no” in the way most parents think they do. “No” is an abstract concept that is in direct opposition to the developmental need of young children to explore their world and to develop their sense of autonomy and initiative.

Although, your child may know you don’t want her to do something. She may even know she will get an angry reaction from you if she does it. However, she cannot understand why in the way an adult thinks she can.

Why else would a child look at you before doing what she “knows” she shouldn’t do, grin, and do it anyway?

Developmental Stages

Around the age of one, children enter the “me do it” stage. This is when they develop a sense of autonomy and from ages two through six, they develop a sense of initiative.

This means that their developmental focus is to explore and experiment. Can you imagine how confusing it is to children to be punished for what they are developmentally programmed to do?

They are faced with a real dilemma (at a subconscious level). “Do I obey my parent or my biological drive to develop autonomy and initiative by exploring and experimenting in my world?”

These stages of development do not mean children should be allowed to do anything they want by any means. But it does explain why all methods to gain cooperation should be kind and firm at the same time instead of controlling and/or punitive.

This is a time of life when your child’s personality is being formed, and you want your child to make decisions about him or herself that say, “I am able. I can try. I can make mistakes and learn from them. I am loved. I am a good person.”

If you are tempted to help your child learn by guilt and shame and punishment, you will be creating a discouraging situation that is difficult to reverse in adulthood.

What Can We As Parents Do

Our job as parents at this age is to think of yourself as a coach and help your child succeed and learn how to do things. We are also observers, working on learning who your child is as a unique human being.

Never underestimate the ability of a young child, but on the other hand, watch carefully as you introduce new opportunities and activities and see:

  1. what your child is interested in
  2. what your child can do, and
  3. what your child needs help learning from you.

Obviously, safety is a big issue at this age, and your job is to keep your child safe without letting your fears discourage him/her. For this reason, supervision is an important parenting tool, along with kindness and firmness while redirecting or teaching your child.

For example, parents can “teach” a two-year-old child not to run into the street, but still would not let him/her play near a busy street unsupervised because they know they can’t expect him or her to “understand” what he/she has learned well enough to have that responsibility.

So why is it so many parents expect their children to “understand” when they say, “No!”

When you understand that children don’t really understand “no” the way you think they should, it makes more sense to use distraction, redirection, or another respectful positive discipline method.


Wanna know what to do or say to your toddler instead of the word “no”?

Find out 12 different specific tactics you can use for positive discipline here.