Award-winning author, L.R.Knost

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’12 Ways to Get Past No’ by Dr. Laura Markham – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer

“2 year-olds argue with their parents 20 to 25 times an hour.” — Study reported in Child Development Magazine

Between 11 and 15 months, we learn a wonderful word:  “No!”

It’s an ecstatic discovery. We learn we are separate, autonomous beings with a will of our own who can impact what happens in the world.  We delight in saying, “No!” at every opportunity.

Our “No” is actually a big “YES!”

It’s an awesome, pure expression of our life force.

After the first cute “No” or two, our parents are usually less than delighted.  In fact, this developmental stage launches what’s often called the “terrible twos.”  Rarely are our ecstatic expressions of primal life force affirmed.  Do you remember your father or mother saying:
“I love your independence and autonomy!”
“I see that you’re learning to stand up for your own truth, which will really help you later in life.”

More common messages are along the lines of:
“Don’t you dare talk back to me!”
“We’ll nip this in the bud!”

There may be the threat—or the reality—of punishment or physical force.  There is almost always the withdrawal of love, as parents walk away when little ones tantrum–the only way they know to make their No heard.

Being powerless and utterly dependent, we soon learn to hide our No’s.  We begin to resort to whining, passive resistance, and manipulation. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve often lost touch with our own needs.

So when our little one falls in love with the word NO, danger signs flash inside us.  We know that NO is dangerous, even if we don’t know why. We think we MUST teach him who’s in charge, right away. Defiance from our child, whether two or twelve, is met with an emotional slap-down as we put him in his place.

The problem is that defiance is a sign that your child is having a problem. When we just rush in with an iron fist, we don’t address the real issue. Which might be that she feels you aren’t listening. Or that she needs your help to cry. Or that she needs you to teach her how to express her needs and wants without attacking the other person. Or maybe she feels she’s sticking up for her integrity.

If she’s a tween or teen, that should make you rejoice. Research shows that teens who are willing to stand up to their parents are also more likely to stand up to their peers. (After all, she could just lie to avoid a confrontation, which is what most teens do.) And kids who can stand up for their own truth start as toddlers.

So even though you get triggered, this isn’t about who is in charge.  Your child knows you’re in charge.  This is about your child’s right to his feelings, even while you honor your responsibility to keep him safe and healthy.

It IS possible to say “No” in a way that honors your own truth, while still staying in positive contact with your child.  It IS possible to honor both your needs and your child’s age-appropriate need to assert herself. The secret?

1. Stop seeing your child’s NO as something you need to overcome. Instead, see it as a YES offering in a duet dance of negotiation. Every dance is a chance to partner with your child, and that foundation of partnership will create more joy — not to mention better behavior–in the years ahead.

2. Don’t take it personally.  Your child is allowed to have a different view than yours.  Her willingness to be different is a strength you want to nurture.

3. Listen to your child’s No.  “You’re saying NO, No bath!  I hear you!”  Sometimes being heard is all our child needs. And the more your child feels seen, heard and acknowledged, the less he’ll need to get your attention by being contrary.

4. Listen to the YES behind the NO.  “You love playing with the toy horse; you don’t want to stop for a bath, right?  That’s okay, you can keep right on playing with the horses… Let’s gallop them into the bathroom!  They’re all dusty from riding all day!” 

5. Sidestep the NO! by making your request an invitation to play.  The secret to smooth transitions is using yourself as the bridge, and no child can refuse your invitation to play.  “Climb on my back, Cowboy, we’re headed for the bathtub in the hills!”

6. Sidestep the NO! by giving your child a choice.  Win-win solutions mean you both get what you need.  “NO bath?  Maybe you and the horses need to be hosed down in the kitchen sink?”  Who cares where he gets clean?

7. Sidestep the NO! by honoring his autonomy without giving up your request. “NO Bath right now?  Ok, Sweetie.  We’ll wait five minutes. Then you may look at the plastic containers in the kitchen and be in charge of which ones you want to play with in the tub.”   Telling your child he “may” do something is magic.  You won’t be able to restrain him from the bath.

8. Join the No. In a joking voice: “Whatever you do, DON’T get in the bathtub.  NO, NO, NO, don’t turn on the water!! NO, NO, NO, don’t take off your clothes!!”

9. Honor the autonomy under the NO.”Want to be in charge of turning on the water and deciding what toys go in the bath?  Who should take your clothes off?”

10. Teach your child to express his needs without attacking you. “You sound worried…Oh, you’re worried about that song about the child who goes down the bathtub drain? Don’t worry, you can be in charge of the plug. We won’t pull it out until you’re out of the tub, and then you can watch the water go down. You’ll see that only water can fit.”

11. Just say YES!  Match the exuberance of your YES! to your child’s No.  Trust yourself to find a way to make both you and your child happy by responding to her No with all the Yes energy you can summon.  “YES, it’s time for your bath, and YES you can bring your horses, and YES you can ride on my back up the stairs on my back up the stairs, and YES I love you so much and YES, LET”S GO!” Your child will match your generosity of spirit.

12. Honor the disappointment when you can’t agree with the No.  When you need to put your foot down, you can say your No with empathy and compassion for your child.  “I’m sorry, Sweetie, it’s time.  That makes you sad, I see. You wish you could play more. I bet when you grow up you’ll play all night, every night, won’t you?” (That will get a yes!)

These examples are all from the toddler years, but if you start off raising your child this way, you’ll raise a tween and teen who can stand firm in his own integrity while he respects yours.

Remember that you can always find a way to meet both your needs.  If you keep your sense of humor, and honor both your own NO and your child’s, you can always find a way to get past the word NO —  to the YES! energy right behind it.

PeacefulParentHappyKids_FINAL.inddDr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. You can get her free coaching posts right in your In Box at

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Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.