Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

My daughter of 15mths has little speech but one word she uses constantly is “no”. She will say this when either asked to do something, or told to stop doing something. At first it seemed quite amusing but now I feel as if every day is battle of wills from the moment she gets up. How can I get her to have a more positive response to things? Or is this just a phase?

This is just one of the many different phases of your child’s normal development.  She has now reached the age where she is beginning to assert herself emotionally, physically and verbally and is gradually learning the skills that will eventually lead to her becoming independent.

Your daughter has probably realised that she is getting a strong response from you when she uses the word “no” repeatedly. Try to adopt a new approach:  when she says “no”, try to distract her.  Most importantly, do not challenge her response by becoming either agitated or questioning.  Toddlers quickly work out how to get your full attention, even if this attention is negative.  Praising positive answers and ignoring negative ones, will immediately begin to lessen your daughter’s wish to say “no” repeatedly.

To help you to deal with what can seem a disconcerting stage, think of different ways of phrasing sentences and questions so as to give your daughter less opportunity to respond with a “no”. Instead of saying, “Let’s put your toys away now” you could say “Which toy shall we put away first?”   Encouraging your child to take part in making decisions will also help her to understand that she does have some influence over what she does.  It is important to offer her some choices at this age, although these should usually be limited to not more than two or three options; for example, “Would you like to wear your blue jumper or your green jumper?”. The question phrased in this manner is much more likely to produce a positive response than “Let’s put your green jumper on”.

There are, of course, some situations where offering a choice is not appropriate, such as bedtime.  But even this could be turned into a positive action if, instead of saying “Would you like to go to bed now” you could say “its bedtime now, let’s go and find Teddy”.

To help you to cope with this stage of your daughter’s development:

  • Let her make some decisions
  • Phrase questions carefully to avoid a “no” response
  • Encourage positive behaviour by thanking her and giving praise for being helpful
  • Be firm and consistent on non-negotiable situations

You might also find it helpful to take a look at Gina ’s book, “The Toddler Years”.  It has lots of useful advice and suggestions for understanding and dealing with the different stages of a child’s development.