Three-Year-Old Saying No to Everything

Dear Dr. Rene,
Help! My three-year-old daughter is saying “no” to everything. It has gotten to the point that when I say “time to get dressed,” she replies, “no, not time to get dressed!” She takes whatever I’ve said and negates it. This is exhausting me.
Sincerely, Jill
Mother of two, ages three years and 10 months

Dear Jill,
I know this is a struggle, but it is likely coming from a good place. Two and three year olds often go through a phase of saying “no” all day long and wanting the opposite of whatever a parent suggests. This is part of developing a sense of self. They are learning an assertive voice, how to state opinions and their impact on those around them.

That said, there is clearly a need to address this. There are several small things that may be helpful. A little validation can go a long way. This would mean saying, “I know you don’t want to get dressed right now,” or “I know you are very busy playing, it is hard to stop to get dressed.” This gives the child a cushion, a little understanding. You are recognizing her point of view and this may lessen the push to argue.

You might offer choices, “hey, do you want to get dressed on the bed or the floor?” “Do you want to put on your shirt or your skirt first?” Choices allow the child some power, they are more flexible and open. They are also underrated, especially with the under six crowd.

Distraction and humor can also be life savers here. If you can make light, everyone may be better able to move on.

I hope this helps.
Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

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