How to say ‘no’ to a toddler

This is a really simple one. Say no – then run! Hide! Grab wine. You’re in for a bumpy ride.

I recently shared a post a friend’s post on Facebook that listed John Marsden’s top tips for parents. Marsden is an Australian writer and school principal so he knows little people and what makes them tick. His advice came across as simple and sound, suggesting actions such as “give children space. Back off. Let them roam. Let them be bored. Don’t over-plan their lives.” (post originated by Pepa Demasson on Facebook). It made me reflect on the childhood of yester-year. We had to create our own fun and entertainment. There was no Paw Patrol on demand, no all singing-all dancing toys. Sindy was as rock’n’roll as it got for me and even then I had to create the fun through imagination.

Point three really got me though:

Be an adult. Say no to your children at least once a day. If the role of Adult in your family is vacant, then one of your children will fill it. And it won’t be pretty.

I contemplated this one for a while. Was I being assertive and taking charge – or was I following the path of least resistance when it came to mothering? Was I agreeing to everything to avoid meltdown and avert potential tantrums? Was I handing the keys of power to a meglotrainiac toddler?

I have the powerrrrrr!

Snacks? Yep – you help yourself little man despite the fact it’s dinner in an hour. You’d like more episodes of Bing? You’ve watched him for an hour straight but knock yourself out; let’s go for another few. You want to wear your muddy wellies with your PJs? It’s a strong look – you work it!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the biggest pushover but when you are a full-time, stay-at-home mum, you have to know what battles to pick. When you’ve clashed over several small things before 11am, to just hold up your hands and say yes, yes, yes is not a bad thing for your sanity. I think all parents, working or not, would happily say that there’s a time and a place for giving in.

However – armed with John’s advice, I felt the need to put it in to practice. To say no and to mean no. No one likes being told they can’t do something or have something. I’m probably not the best role model of this (just ask my husband) but acceptance and respect for decisions is something we need to learn. Learning this lesson, as you can imagine, is not all plain sailing. I give you the following examples

The Rowing Machine

I’ve committed myself to getting fitter and healthier this year. I don’t believe that Harry got that memo. For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you will know I have had issues with Harry showing too much interest in our exercise equipment. I moved it in to the sitting room to make it more accessible but every time I want to run, Harry tries to jump on too. Every time I want to row – he’s sitting in the seat.

For a while, I just relented and waited for a time when he could be barred from the room, e.g. before dinner but it wasn’t working for me. I’m a ‘get exercise out the way’ early kinda gal so it was toughen up or fatten up!

With John’s words echoing in my ears, I very firmly told him no as he began to mount the rowing seat. To say it didn’t go down to well was an understatement. A standoff began. Him to close for me to pull the rowing handle without clothes-lining him. Me still trying to get a full leg extension. To aid me, I’d googled ‘how to survive animal attack’. With a bear you must “STAND YOUR GROUND. Wave your arms and speak in a loud low voice.” (credit: Fox News).

I relinquished the ergonomic handle, bared down on the foot rests and uttered “NO! Mummy’s turn” from the depths of my diaphragm.

Then it happened. With a frown and narrowed eyes, he turned around, made for the sofa and watched some Thomas. It was that easy. Surviving Bear attack – tick.

The Swimming Pool

Let me start by saying, it was horrendous weather: rain, wind and grimness. I would quite happily have stayed in the warm and watched ‘Lots and Lots of Really Big Trains’ for the entire afternoon. But we needed to get out and the swimming pool seemed the best outlet for his energy (and for a guaranteed good night’s sleep). He loves the pool – he splashes: Mummy looks like Alice Cooper as her mascara and eye flicks stream down her face. Such fun!

The toddler swimming slot in the training pool is 2-4pm. At 2pm he was still snoozing. At 2:30pm he was still snoozing. At 2:45pm I took the bold move of waking him. It’s like prodding a shark. You just don’t do it. I held fast to the advice to those on the brink of shark attack: “Keep calm; remember that while sharks are deadly animals, they’re not invincible.”

A deep breath and I attempted to swap the nappy for a swim one and slide on his 1930’s high waisted ‘Happy Nappy’. He was thrashing and flailing like a Great White and demanding to ‘stay innnnnn!”

I tried the bear technique. “No! We are going swimming.” Calm… low voice. More wild writhing. OK – what do they advise next? “Once a shark takes hold, the only way you’re getting out alive is to prove that it’s not worth the effort to eat you — because you’re going to cause it pain. Look for a weapon: You’ll probably have to improvise.” (Credit: Fox news)

This one was a bit severe. I didn’t want social services banging on my door, just for the sake of a thirty minute dunk in the pool. However, there was one glimmer of hope to win this battle. A weapon was obtained. I launched for a dummy and plugged it in as I wrestled his jeans back on. Lightning fast, he was whipped out the door and in to the car seat before you could say “Jaws”.

I felt for him. No one likes to be shoe-horned in to swimming trunks and dragged out in to the rain, just as you’ve woken up. But I knew, as soon as we were there we would have a great time and the window of opportunity was too short with pool times to give him time to come round.

And you know what – surprise surprise, mamma was right. He did the best he’s ever done in his little armbands. And slept the entire night through. I TOLD YOU SO!

Jut Say No!

I won’t lie. For every time I have held steadfast and tamed the rabid beast, there’s been times that I’ve relented. He got through an entire half a melon yesterday. I knew the bottom repercussions and percolations would not be favourable but figured there’s worse snacks you can inhale. Once again – mummy was right. They were some bad-ass nappies, but it gained me a half-hour of calmness.

I am trying to remain strong and furiously reading up on animal behaviour. I’ve have now upskilled myself on how to survive: crocodiles, rhinos, hippos, scorpions and snakes. All will be invaluable I am sure when it comes to dealing with feral toddler behaviour. Now we just need to educate Daddy who does not seem to have ‘No!’ in his vocabulary as they empty every toy on to the carpet whilst munching on crisps.

Now to tackle the next challenge from John Marsden: Keep away from all those ghastly, soulless, sterile playgrounds. Keep away from shopping malls. Look for real places. Wild places. Wellies on then and a happy Daddy that Mummy isn’t caning the credit card in Westfield. Forest swamps it is!

How does your child react when you say no? Have you perfected any techniques to tame the toddler beast? I’d love to hear how it goes for you!



  1. I think it’s about choosing your battles. There are some things that you definitely need to say no to and it’s good for them to get used to it. But then there’s definitely times when you can probably not really have to say no at all!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ha ha this made me chuckle. Our three year old rules the roost (or at least he thinks he does). So when you say no to him his bottom lip comes out, he folds his arms and turns his head away from you and sulks. But I will take that over the temper tantrums we use to have!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are doing really well to stand your ground! When my son was having tantrums I would do anything I could to avoid them when I was on my own without someone there for backup and to keep me sane! I absolutely love how you are comparing each episode to different animal attacks lol

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can relate to this. We had an easy ride with our first, but our youngest is a lot more stubborn and sometimes it just feels like the easy way out to give in to avoid a tantrum. Except then the next time will be even worse. I’m getting better at standing my ground though.

    Liked by 1 person

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