Toddler Tornado & Turning “NO” Into Options When Your Toddler Isn’t Cooperating


Toddlers are awesome. I mean that in the most literal sense: they inspire awe, both at how sweet and intelligent and hilarious they can be, but also at how difficult they can be. My toddler’s destructive powers know no bounds these days. In the space of about a week, she managed to literally pull her bedroom door off its hinges, twist her video monitor beyond repair, tear tassels off her cute new bedding, send a bobby pin down the backup drain in the bathroom sink, cover our dining table in crayon, pour water all over the piano bench, smear my lipstick all over her face… you get the picture. She can trash any room in about a minute.

I know it’s just her job as a two year old discovering the world around her. I know it’s just natural curiosity, but it can be incredibly frustrating. It’s not malicious, but it exists nonetheless, and it’s a lot of work to clean up after her all day. Who knew I had to worry about her REMOVING HER DOOR?! And with all this destructiveness also comes a whole lot of boundary-pushing. Oh boy. Naptime is a constant struggle for example…


And there are all the other little moments she wants to assert control. Diaper change, putting on socks, eating, not eating, who gets to push the button, which position we set the baby doll down in, the fact that it’s a Tuesday… you name it, there’s a power struggle! It was happening more and more and getting exhausting. Then I remembered something I had read about creating an environment that’s conducive to your child’s success. The gist of it is: of course they need to learn to obey, but life is hard for a toddler. Don’t make things more difficult than they need to be by triggering them — make sure they’re not tired or hungry, create boundaries and expectations that will help them feel more secure. (Go read that article, that mom has some golden tips that have really helped me re-frame the way I see my daughter and how I relate to her. Things like “Set up our home and routine to allow as many yes’s as we can” and “Say yes as much as possible, make our “no’s” count”).

I don’t like the term “Terrible Twos” because I feel like it’s too negative. This age is actually really delightful — she is speaking, helping, she’s funny and affectionate, we’re developing more of a relationship — but it is also very frustrating sometimes. Creating a positive, calm environment is incredibly helpful, and I’ve been making efforts lately to do that.

And then, there’s this magic little technique I learned. I wish I could remember where I first read about it, but what it boils down to is this: giving a child options almost always helps defuse a “no!” situation.

Example: “Time to put on your pajamas!”
– No!
– Okay… do you want to put your pajamas on starting with your arms or your feet?
– (pause) Feet!”

And would you believe it, she was absolutely delighted to help put on her pajamas! She did what she needed to do, but she had some choice in the matter. I once heard it explained this way: imagine if you spent your day having no idea what would happen next and being arbitrarily told to do things, dragged from one place to the next? You’d be frustrated too! This technique has been a game-changer around these parts.

Do you want to eat a pea or a carrot first? Would you like the pink cup or the blue cup? Here, come pick out the bib you want to wear. Want to help me mix the noodles? Should I brush your bottom teeth or your top teeth first? Do you want the big book or the beach book? Here, come help me turn on the white noise. Is it Papa’s turn to say the prayer or Mama’s? Do you want your little pillow or your big pillow?

You get the idea. You can seriously make up anything and for us at least, it’s been amazing to see how she responds to this. She’s still obeying, but she has some flexibility within those boundaries. I’m sure it won’t work forever, especially as she gets wise to my little subterfuge, but hey, it works right now and it’s making life so much more pleasant for all of us! Defusing these little situations means I can have my sweet girl back.


To be clear: sleeping has always been and — I’m pretty sure — always will be our mountain to climb. And I don’t have a perfect angel child who always obeys, even with this helpful tool. We haven’t eliminated whining. But this has helped defuse many situations. I don’t see it as never telling my child no, but rather picking and choosing my battles so that when I do need to resort to saying “no,” it actually means something. 

Have any other toddler tips? Please share, I can use all the help I can get! How do you handle stubborn little people?

One thought on “Toddler Tornado & Turning “NO” Into Options When Your Toddler Isn’t Cooperating

  1. With three boys 4 and under I learned early on that the word “no” would get me nowhere…LOL! I also liked to give choices like you’re giving Adelina and I started using the phrase “that’s not for you.” In all honesty I still use it and they’re all adults now. Even today saying “that’s not for you” makes them pause for a second and ask themselves…why? As children using that phrase didn’t incite the panic, anger, frustration, etc, that “no” can to a small child. No feels like a rejection, it’s confusing, but “that’s not for you” gives you teachable moments.

    Touching the stove…that’s not for you…why?…because it’s hot and could burn you, burning yourself will hurt. Playing with mommy’s lipstick (which isn’t something that only little girls do…LOL)…that’s not for you…why?…because that belong to mommy and not to you, how would you like it if I went into your room and took your things and broke them?

    Of course it changes as they get older, but my husband and I made a deal early on to try and not have the word “no” be a regular part of our vocabulary with our children and we truly believe it made a difference.


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