My 3-yr-old's favorite word is "No." How do we deal with his defiance?

I know it's frustrating when your child responds to your every request with “No!” If it helps, you can rest assured that it is actually a healthy sign of development— he is developing autonomy. Your child is beginning to understand that he is separate from you and can exert some control over his world. When he says “No,” he is really saying “I want to do it myself” and “I want to have some control over what happens.” The best way to deal with your child’s defiance is to provide him with opportunities to be in control and make his own choices. For example, next time you ask your child to do something, allow him to choose between two or three acceptable options. This will allow him to demonstrate his autonomy in a positive way, and ensures that you are comfortable with his choices. Another way to help reduce your child’s use of the word “No” is to use it less yourself. Rather than saying “No,” try to propose choices or offer a when/then option (for example, “When you finish your dinner, then you can have a cookie”).

Jennie Ito, Ph.D.

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