Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter, who is 3 1/2, is still in her “NO!” phase. Anything I tell her to do, she categorically refuses. I was prepared for the “terrible twos” but thought she would have outgrown them by now. Is there anything I can do?
A: There are plenty of things you can do to help. But before we get to them, let’s try to figure out why your daughter has become so attached to the N word.
To start with, she’s still trying to establish her independence. And one of the best ways (at least in her mind) is to let you know who’s in charge.
(Fair warning: This exact, nerve-wracking dynamic will crop up again when she hits her teen years.)
It’s also possible that her knee-jerk negativity is part of her temperament. A child who doesn’t react well to change or needs extra time to warm up to new situations may throw out a no as a way of maintaining the status quo.
Third, your daughter may be confused or might not understand what you’re asking/telling her to do. More on that in a minute.
Here are some approaches that should help.
• Make sure she knows the difference between negotiable and non-negotiable rules. Health and safety issues (for example, always wearing a helmet when riding your bike or holding your hand when crossing the street) are not.
Less important things (like what color the helmet is or whether she holds your right or left hand) are.
• Don’t pull rank. Telling her, “I’m big, you’re little, so my way goes,” won’t produce the results you’re looking for.
• Stay away from yes/no questions. Instead of, “Please put your jacket on,” try “Do you want to wear the red jacket or the blue one?”
This may not seem important, but every child, regardless of age, needs a certain amount of independence in order to develop the confidence necessary for decision-making.
• Be logical. If your child says “No” when you tell her to put on her helmet, instead of repeating your demand, try something like, “Oh, I see that you don’t really want to ride your bike today.”
• Wait a minute and ask again – gently. No doesn’t always mean no. Sometimes it means, “Pay more attention to me.”
• One thing at a time. If someone told you to put down your markers, stop playing with your toys, clean up the living room, go upstairs, wash your hands, come back down, and eat dinner, you’d probably say no, too.
• Eye contact. It’s easier for her to refuse if she’s not looking at you than if she is.
• Never pass up an opportunity to give your daughter a high five.
• Be a good model. You can’t expect your child to do things you don’t.