not happy toddler
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Baby’s new favorite word: “no”

In theory, it has always been the goal for your tiny, helpless baby to grow into a strong, independent person. That’s a good thought to keep in mind as he grows into one of the more annoying stages of his journey towards independence – negativism.

Negativism is the phase when Baby learns, and learns to love, saying ‘no.’ And while it’s not always the easiest phase to live through, the skills Baby builds during this time will stay with him throughout his life. It can start around the time Baby learns to say ‘no,’ which is often one of a baby’s first words, possibly because babies tend to hear it so much. It also gets between them and what they want, which is definitely enough to make it memorable.

Some little overachievers can get a headstart on negativity long before they have the words for it, though. Babies know you don’t always need words to make yourself understood, especially when those words are ‘no thanks.’ A head-shake or even just the occasional chilling shriek can get the point across just as well, in some cases. Negativism can start as early as a little before his first birthday, though it often doesn’t hit until some time between the first and second year. It generally peaks some time between 2 and 3, and after that he will probably start to be more willing to cooperate, or at least listen to reason.

Baby’s adventures in refusing things as important as doctors’ visits, or as trivial as a certain pair of socks are signs that he has started to think of themselves as a separate person from you, and is learning about making choices. Choice is powerful, especially in the lives of small children who may not feel they have very much of it.

One of the best ways to help your and Baby’s lives run smoothly through this negative phase is to offer him options. Instead of putting a shirt on him, or putting a plate down in front of him, so the only choice he has is to say no, try offering him a few simple options, to help him feel like he has a measure of control. On the other hand, when it comes to things that really aren’t negotiable, like checkups, bedtime, or not running out into the road, be careful not to phrase requests as questions, which are just asking to be refused.

Most of all, it’s important to remember that Baby’s negative phase will pass, and when it does, he will come out of it with a lot of practice saying no to the things he doesn’t want, which will be important in social situations for the rest of his life. A lot of practice.

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