How to Manage the "No" Stage in Children?

The "no" stage in children can be stressful for their parents. However, it's a key time in learning boundaries. Keep reading!
How to Manage the "No" Stage in Children?

Last update: 31 July, 2022

Children grow up and begin to establish their own tastes and preferences. Undoubtedly, this represents a new challenge for the adults who accompany them, as they find themselves “up against the wall” on a daily basis. How can you apply limits and make children understand that they can’t do certain things without being authoritarian? How can you say no without triggering a tantrum? These are some of the questions frequently asked by parents when their children start to go through the “no” stage. Let’s take a look at some ideas and recommendations.

The “no” stage in childhood

After their children’s second birthday, many adults stop recognizing these creatures that live in the skin of the sweet children they had a few months ago.

What happens is nothing out of the ordinary and, in fact, is to be expected at a certain stage of child development. This is the “no” stage, a time of healthy opposition, which allows the acquisition of socioemotional skills, favors the exploration of the world, and helps to discover what one is capable of achieving.

You shouldn’t be afraid of this moment because, despite the annoyances, it brings many joys, like all stages of life. But what’s important to keep in mind is that the “no” stage is absolutely necessary for boys and girls. Therefore, we must accept it and not minimize our children’s behavior or their feelings. Also, we must understand that it’s not a personal issue, as there are no deliberately harmful actions towards parents.

In this sense, one of the best ways to deal with this stage is to rethink our own parenting practices. First, we must reflect on what values we want to transmit, how we want to educate our children, what we consider non-negotiable, and what aspects we could make more flexible.

By being clear about our parenting principles, we can devise ways to adapt our actions to the personality of the child we have in front of us. The objective is to educate with a purpose and not in an improvised way.

A child crossing his arms, surrounded by the word "no".
The “no” stage is normal, expected, and necessary in order to achieve an adequate integral development of the child. Therefore, learn why it occurs and accompany your child to go through it in the best possible way.

How to manage the “no” stage in children

Here are some keys to managing the “no” stage in children. Take note!

Avoid using “no” as your most frequent strategy.

When we use “no” as if it were a wild card, this term loses its effect. We confuse our little ones because everything seems to be the same.

It’s important to become aware of the occasions when “no” is used and think of other possible strategies. For example, if your child wants one more bedtime story, instead of saying “you can’t because tomorrow there’s school”, you can say “let’s try to sleep now so that tomorrow you’ll be rested and ready to listen to another story at night”.

Establish the different types of “no”

In short, “no” is a limit, but there are several types. On the one hand, there are those that we can make flexible and allow to be challenged when children begin to explore and exercise their autonomy. They’re those rules that don’t put them in danger if they’re transgressed from time to time, such as having a sweet soda on a specific day of the week.

On the other hand, there are those non-negotiable rules that seek to preserve the integrity of infants. Few parents have any doubts about these, and they must be made clear to children so that they can differentiate them from the previous ones. As an example, we could mention the “no” regarding crossing the street alone or playing with plugs.

It’s important to let children show their opposition to the word “no” because it’s a way to assert themselves and differentiate themselves progressively from their parents.

Use positive affirmations

Our brain understands better when we direct it towards what it should do. Therefore, it’s a good idea to tell your child the behavior you want to promote instead of emphasizing what you don’t want them to do.

Show the benefits of maintaining desirable behavior

Children need to understand that the decisions we make are for their well-being and protection. So, when we tell them to stay away from the stove, we must also explain why. “You could hurt yourself and cause yourself pain” is a simple and very clear way to give an argument to that limit.

When we explain the reason for the “no”, we start to pave the way for them toward reflection before action. And also, we show them that our limits aren’t arbitrary.

Learn to negotiate

Negotiating with a young child not only calms the storm, but also teaches you to seek points of consensus diplomatically.

For example, if your child tells you that they don’t want to wear the striped pants you left out for them, you can tell them that you accept their opinion and that they can choose what they want to wear, but they’ll have to get dressed. Here, the message you’re sending is that you understand that they don’t like a certain outfit, but that it’s not acceptable to leave the house without putting clothes on.

A mother kneeling down to talk to her toddler.
When you create a strong bond between parents and children, it’s much easier to reach agreements. If a child feels respected, listened to, and taken into account, they’ll be much more willing to do the same.

Establish clear routines and rules

Finally, to avoid anger due to a refusal of permission, it’s important to have clear rules at home. These help to make the scenarios more predictable for little ones and to have less anger and confrontations.

For example, letting children know that during the week they can’t have sleepovers with friends allows them to understand the family dynamics and prepare to organize them on a Friday or Saturday.

Limits favor the development of autonomy

Children being able to say “no” is a first step toward their autonomy and also towards learning self-care, respect, and the development of self-esteem.

Falling into the extreme of not frustrating them or consenting to everything they want isn’t a useful or healthy strategy. We must know that teaching them to accept “no” will allow them to acquire life skills, such as tolerance of frustration.

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.

  • Seitun, Maritchu (2013), Capacitación emocional para la familia, Grijalbo.
  • Bilbao, Alvaro (2015) El cerebro del niño explicado a los padres.Plataforma Actual.
  • Solís Cámara Reséndiz, P., Díaz Romero, M., & Díaz Romero, M. (2007). RELACIONES ENTRE CREENCIAS Y PRÁCTICAS DE CRIANZA DE PADRES CON NIÑOS PEQUEÑOS. Anales de Psicología / Annals of Psychology23(2), 177–184. Recuperado a partir de

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