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What To Say To Your Toddler Instead Of No

Saying No to a toddler can be one of the easiest ways to discipline, but, that does not mean it’s the most effective way. If you spent even an hour with a toddler, you know, the more you use the word “No”, the more your child wants to do the opposite.

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In today’s post, let us explore why and what you can say to your toddler instead of No.


As children enter the toddler year’s they begin to assert more for themselves. They are learning about independence and pushing limits all at the same time.

One of the easiest ways to stop little children from doing or behaving a certain way is by saying no. But, with younger children especially, you will notice how saying No or negative phrases ends up with the opposite action. Now your toddler wants to do exactly what you warned him against. Why is this?

Children are born curious. They are learning about the world they live in everyday through this curiosity. To the child touching, exploring, testing and pushing limits are all a part of this growing up process. 

This is not to say, we never use the word No, or set the right limits in place as parents. 

But, understanding that we cannot always come in with a No. Constantly using negative phrases like, “No, Don’t Do this, don’t do that” make your cautionary words meaningless, plus, we don’t want to squash our child’s curious mind and learning process by constantly coming in with a Do Not Do This approach.

Related reading : What your toddler needs from you

Younger children are also not yet equipped to understand context and the complete meaning of words.

But they do pick up on the emotion or sense of urgency behind the words. They understand that my parent has just reprimanded me and in those toddler years, the child may end up feeling guilty, as if they lost your love in the moment you come in with a strict tone/yell saying No.

Again, in the long term this creates a lack of trust instead of cooperation.

Help your child thrive socially and emotionally. The Make It Stick Program gives you all the information, tools and support for you to create the calm parenting life you crave.

How then can we place our limits yet parent from a place of connection over correction?

We can do so by changing our perspective of the toddler years. Things are not happening to us. The child is not manipulating us or doing things to irritate us. The child is simply doing what his genes have programed him to do. Explore. 

We use this understanding of the situation and then come in with a collaborative and compassionate approach over hard rules and unrealistic expectations.

If you would like to know more about the Gentle Parenting approach do read this previous post I wrote. It can help you change your perspective and how you view your child thus easing the transition to gentle discipline.

what to say to your toddler instead of No


Tell them what you want, instead of saying No

Instead of saying, “Don’t touch the railing.” You can say “Hands to yourself”

This can be applied to other situations as well, instead of “Don’t climb/ don’t jump/don’t run” use “Feet to the ground/Sit here/ Stand here.” 

Keep it short and simple with direct instructions over negative phrases or complaints.

Give more information, instead of saying No 

In a situation when you need to set a limit sometimes giving more information works as you lay the limit instead of a simple No.

For eg.

We don’t use our legs to kick mud in the playground, you could hurt someone.

Mommy cannot let you get wet in the rain, you will catch a cold.

These situations are usually tricky with strong willed toddlers. You may need to repeat your limit multiple times.

Also, be prepared to lay in a natural consequence if the limit is not respected.

For eg.

Let’s say, you already mentioned about kicking mud three times and your toddler continues to play risky. At this point, you go down to the child’s level, repeat your limit and explain why you can no longer continue playing in the park and need to leave.

This will lead to an outburst but you need to follow through on the natural consequence to not respecting the limit.

In our personal experience we try our best to use natural consequences only when absolutely needed. It is very easy to go over board and start using consequences as a discipline technique in itself, but, it stops being effective as it makes the child feel hurt, shamed and rebel if used incorrectly.

We don’t want that. Therefore, it is important to always first understand the situation and your toddlers perspective along side the other options you have and only use natural consequences when you know the limit has been completely ignored and its important for your child to understand it for his own and others safety.

We have used natural consequences all of two times so far in our parenting journey of 5 years and not had a repeat of the incidence because it was laid at a moment where the child knew limits had been crossed and what that resulted in.

More on toddler discipline

Describe the situation and help the child understand emotions better instead of saying No

Certain situations quickly get out of hand and require you to step in and take control of the situation.

The child may be overwhelmed with big emotions. Instead of simply saying, “Stop crying”, “Do not hit” or “No throwing” it can help to describe to the child what you see.

This helps the toddler put a name to his emotions and process it, rather than simply being told to Stop.

For example:

Instead of

“Stop throwing”

You can say, “You are throwing food, looks like you are done. Let me get you out of your chair”.

Instead of

“Stop crying”, say “I know you feel bad Johnny took your toy away.”

Describe what you see and provide alternatives and solutions where possible.

It is very important to start talking about emotions with toddlers as these are the first years they are beginning to feel and understand them. Help them name the emotion they feel and provide alternative ways for them to express positively.

Making it a game and introducing conversation around feelings and emotions is very effective with toddlers. The My feelings card set is a useful resource to add to your home environment and guide toddlers through this phase gently.

More on the dreaded “Terrible Twos

Make it a game

Younger toddlers work well with playful parenting instead of strict rules and a hard No.

If you expect your toddler to resist a part of the routine, try and make a game around the routine.

In my previous post I explained how I made toothbrushing fun for our toddler by making a game out of tooth brushing.

Toddler gives you a hard time dressing up to go to day care? Put on a timer and make a game out of getting ready. Say to the child, “Let us see if you get ready in 2 minutes. My timer will go off in 2 minutes.“

This one worked like a charm in our home. The kids get excited everytime they are ready and the alarm goes off. We all let out a big hurray! 

But seriously, make everyday a little fun and enjoy the routine with your kids. Make a game out of it.

Distraction works too

Younger toddlers are not yet verbal enough to understand and respond to verbal directions and explanations. Long explanations and rules are ineffective when trying to gain cooperation from a younger toddler.

In such cases distraction works beautifully. If your toddler is playing with an unsafe object for example, simply remove the object from his hand and direct him to another activity of his interest.

Distraction helps avoid tantrums and keeps the situation calmer for both the adult and the child.

State limits and boundaries instead of No

Decide on certain boundaries and expectations and consistently and gently remind the child about them. Do not expect toddlers to get it after you state the boundary once. It takes consistency on the parent’s part to lay the limit every time an undesirable behavior happens.

For eg.

Hands are not for hitting (as you gently move the child’s arm away from you)

Can you use your words instead? 

If the child is young and cannot yet explain to you what frustrates him, you can say,

Hands are not for hitting, and follow this by describing what you observe and provide a solution.


Food is not for throwing. Here, keep what you don’t like in this bowl on the side.

Most importantly, I would like to remind you to set age appropriate expectations from your child. Most parental frustrations happen because the parent is expecting something the child cannot even comprehend.

Read here to understand age-appropriate expectations from toddlers.

Toddler years are really challenging for parents. In many situations we are almost playing detective trying our best to understand the “Why” behind every tantrum.

But hopefully, the strategies I explained here come in handy in your everyday parenting situations.

All of these helped me parent my toddler better and made our life at home much calmer, so I really hope you can take away a few tips that work for you too.

5 thoughts on “What To Say To Your Toddler Instead Of No”

  1. Completely get your point.. lil difficult to follow but am sure we ll get along.. thank you for this.. much needed at the right time

    • I get it, even parents need practice. A lot of this is more inner work rather than trying to “train” children and expect ideal behaviors in all life situations.

    • The point made here is, not that we never use a No (certain emergency situations require a quick No to get the point across) but rather set limits for the child that define the boundary rather than simply use No.

      It is very easy to go overboard with using No, don’t do this or that, and if we know anything about how toddlers process a No, we know it tempts them to do more of what you said No to.

      Rather telling them what you want in simple sentences helps them understand what the boundary really means.

      You don’t need to use lengthy reasoning with 2 year olds, the examples of phrases I mentioned above are short and simple enough for a toddler to understand.


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