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Preschoolers Need To Say “No”

“NO!” The dreaded word has been spoken. You asked your child to do something reasonable, like put on sunscreen on a hot, sunny day. Wash his hands before a meal. Put his shoes on so you can get out of the house. Pick up the toys he left scattered in the living room. Brush his teeth before going to bed. Go to bed.

Yet your child—at a year, two, three, four or older—has a mind of his own. You love that mind of his, his growing independence and assertiveness, his desire to decide what he wants to do and when. But you wish he would be reasonable! You wish he would do, without so much fuss, what you want him to do.

“No” and “Why” become common words for young preschoolers. Saying “No” is a way a preschooler claims her space. Saying “Why” is a wish to understand the world around her. “Why” is also a word preschoolers use to question authority. Underneath the question, they are saying “Why do you have power over me when I want to feel autonomous?”

“For a preschooler sometimes ‘no’ is not meant to start a power struggle, it’s simply an expression of self. ‘NO let me do it alone. No, I do it.’ It’s important to remember that your child may simply be doing his job growing up, and saying ‘yes’ to himself, rather than ‘no’ to you.” – Susanna Neumann, Ph.D. – Child Psychoanalyst

Yes, it is okay that your child has started to say “no.”  Preschoolers learn that they can use specific words to say what they mean. They have long known their parents’ words have power over their lives and they are beginning to realize that their own words can make a difference as well. They create more powerful meanings using their growing vocabulary.

Changing our responses to our children’s “no” means, in part, letting go of the power we have over our children by relinquishing (or at least reducing) our own “no” to them. It means being willing to let go of our attachment to our strategies based on understanding our own and our children’s needs. It means focusing on the nature of the relationship we want to have with our children, what we want to teach them, and what kind of world we want to prepare them for.

We can use a “no” (from our children and ourselves) as the beginning of a rich dialogue that can bring all of us closer and move us in the direction of meeting all of our needs.


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