The "No" Stage: What It Is and How to Deal with It

From one day to the next, your child radically changes their behavior and begins to say "no" to everything. In this article, discover everything you need to know about the "no" stage.
The "No" Stage: What It Is and How to Deal with It
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

From one day to the next, your little one, that sweet and complacent child that always cooperated with a smile, has begun to say no to absolutely everything. They don’t want to put their socks on, they don’t want to go to bed, they don’t want to comb their hair. Are you familiar with this situation? If you are, your child may be entering the “no” stage.

You may have decided not to pay attention to this sudden and abrupt change in your child’s behavior. On the other hand, you may just feel that they want to disobey and challenge you; that they’re misbehaving. However, if you put yourself in their shoes, you’ll see what’s happening from a broader perspective.

The “no” stage

When children turn two, they undergo a number of important cognitive changes. They begin to become aware of themselves as individuals, separate from their parents. From this point on, they’re able to differentiate their own existence, desires, and opinions.

The "No" Stage: What It Is and How to Deal with It

This fascinating discovery leads them to want to experiment with their new discovery in their environment. Thus, they wish to express their individuality and learn to use it. And the best tool to do so is defiance. In addition, they start differentiating their own interests from other people’s, as well as their own individual existence.

Therefore, the child starts saying no systematically. They say “no” when they’re angry and want to express their disagreement. However, they also do it when they’re tired and even out of habit. At this stage, they’re likely to respond “no” even when presented with an offer that benefits them or seems appealing. They’re still learning to exercise their will.

The perspective you should adopt

When faced with this bewildering change of behavior, many parents don’t know how to react. They interpret their child’s negative responses as a challenge or manipulation. In addition, they think that their child has become disobedient and mouthy. So consequently, they believe they need to correct this behavior. Therefore, it’s common for them to lose their patience and argue with their child.

In this sense, the reality is that, despite having a newfound will, the child’s ability to reason isn’t yet fully developed. Your child doesn’t want to bother nor challenge you. Instead, they’re learning to navigate the world.

They don’t consider the danger of their actions or the negative impact they have on you, as they’re simply not able to yet. Up to a certain age, children’s thinking is egocentric. Thus, they’re unable to take other people’s perspectives into account.

In addition, if you reflect, you’ll discover that you may have influenced this behavior in your child. How many times a day do you say “no” to your child? And how many times do they say it to you? It’s easy to understand why children begin to use this word due to the number of times they hear it.

The "No" Stage: What It Is and How to Deal with It

In addition, just like you have reasons to say no to your child, they also have their own reasons for doing so. Obviously, you can’t give in to their every whim. Nevertheless, you can adopt a more respectful and understanding attitude.

Finally, children aren’t automatons or objects of your property. They’re small “people” with their own thoughts and feelings that must be equally respected.

How to face the “no” stage

  • You need to understand the cognitive process your child is undergoing. Try to see things from their perspective and understand that they’re not challenging you. In other words, they’re just learning to live.
  • Try to avoid saying “no” to them. This way, you’ll show them that there are more constructive ways to express an opinion.
  • Be patient and try not to lose your temper when your child says “no.” Although it might take you half an hour to get them to put their socks on, it’s best to avoid screaming at them.
  • Also, allow your child to choose certain things, so that they progressively exercise their will. However, don’t give in to what you think is important. Boundaries and coherence are essential in child development.

Remember that the “no” stage will happen and all the effort of love and respect you have invested in raising your child will pay off in the end. The way you guide your child on how to handle their opinions and emotions is a valuable legacy.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.