The Two Kinds of “No”


A baby grabbing a dogs face.Toddlerhood indeed brings on a whole new world of behavior – and misbehavior. A few choice milestones my son has recently hit: first time yanking on the dog’s tail, first time smacking a plastic truck against the T.V. screen, and first time (and second, third, and fourth time) throwing his cup with surprising force onto the ground from his highchair.

This has led to a mommy milestone for me: first time disciplining my little baby.

The word “no” is now uttered more times than I ever imagined it would be. No, you may not climb onto the couch unassisted. No, you may not smack Mommy in the face. No, you may not take the tambourine from music class home with you. And no, you may not take that tambourine and “share” it with the 9-month-old baby next to you by tapping him in the arm with it.

I do think my son knows what “no” means. He shakes his head when refusing food I’ve cooked him or when asked, “Do you want to take a nap?” He seems pretty clear when he does something wrong, and I look him in the eye (no laughing allowed – I learned that early on) or take his hand in mine and say, “No.”

Do I feel guilty sometimes for scolding him like a puppy? Yes. But I know deep down that I am teaching him right from wrong and that he’s old enough to begin learning how to behave.

There is another stage of “no” that I am just beginning to embark upon, and so far, it’s a much harder one: refusing my son things that are not “wrong” per se, just being phased out. We are trying to wean him off baby bottles and his pacifier. And while it’s (relatively) easy to say “no” to him when he’s done something wrong (today’s greatest hits: swinging his wooden push toy like a baseball bat perilously close to the dog’s face, trying to drop Mommy’s phone into her cup of coffee, and stealing Daddy’s glasses off of his face), it’s much more complicated when I am refusing him something he’s been allowed to have for 15 months.

I imagine it must seem completely out of the blue to him. For over a year, he’s been happily grabbing his “baba” full of milk from his parents’ hands. Now, handed a cup, he gives us a confused and – heartbreaking! – sad face. “Baba?” he asks us. I explain that he is a big boy and it’s time for cups, but the message is sadly lost on him.

I haven’t used the word “No” yet because I don’t want him to think he’s done anything wrong. But how do I tell him it’s just not going to happen?

What is your advice for telling your kids when they’re misbehaving? And how do you tell them they’re not allowed to have something anymore (even though they’ve done nothing wrong)? I’m collecting all “no” tips!


  1. Ugg, so tricky! I do have a couple ideas- though I am treading lightly on giving advice…always tricky business. That being said, here are a few things I stumbled on when it was time to move on from a bottle. Save the word, “no” for the hard stops. Use it for the examples you gave when he is doing something unsafe or inappropriate. Try substitutions when you are weaning off things that he once loved and brought him comfort. Look for a sippy cup that is similar in shape and feel to his bottle type. That won’t work, of course, but it helps a little. When you usually gave him a bottle and he is missing it, stay calm and confident. When you project confidence in the decision, he will trust it more as well. Even though he won’t understand you, (or even hear you through the tears) “talk” him through it. “I know you are sad, but it is time.” Blunt, calm, confident and comforting are the tones of voice to go for (easier said then done, I know) but when he is crying and sad, he is feeling lost. To help him get back to a secure place, show him and give him security. Try your best to not add to his confusion with squeaky or whiny voices- imagine the scene (that I have been guilty many times) when your child is sad and you are feeling helpless and you bounce around with a high pitched voice repeating, “I know, I know, I know…” This only tells the child that the situation is scary and that you do not know a way out either- pretty scary! If it is time to move on from the bottle, then be confident in that decision and hold him, rock him, give him a favorite toy or more book time. Give him other reasons and tools to feel comforted now that his go-to item is no longer an option. Let him cry, but hold him while he does all with the confidence that you will both get through it and it is the right decision. It does not have to be a battle- just make the decision and move through it together. He will move on and he will have many favorite items from babas to legos in the future. The important thing is that he knows that you will be there to restore his security with each phase.

    As for discipline- tricky, tricky business. I have a friend with four children under five years old who does discipline beautifully. It is magic to watch and a tremendous relief to know that it can be done with love and respect. I once watched her two year old grab a sharp knife out of the dishwasher and throw it at the baby with ninja like swiftness. The inevitable panic of the sight of a knife being hurled in the direction of her sweet baby’s perfect little cherub face surely shook her to her core and triggered a million waves of adrenaline through her- her children, however, had no clue that she was terrified. She swiftly picked up the offender, looked him in the eye and said, “we only throw balls.” She then moved him to the other side of the room and (and here is the genius part) she moved on and let it go! Then something amazing happened. The little offender walked over to the toy ball bin, picked one up and threw it across the floor. Both my friend and the little boy shrieked in delight and said, “Yeah! Balls!”

    I never forgot this lesson and I asked her about it later. “How can you stay that calm?” Her response, “I made the decision to focus on the behavior. To act quickly, calmly, and to expect (not ask, plead, or demand) but expect and state the behavior I wanted. They are learning” she said. “Now is my chance to teach them- it’s all just behavior and it is all normal. I have no time for fear or guilt or mind games.”

    Genius! I strive for this type of focus every day. It is extremely difficult- but if you keep the emotion out of the discipline, then the kids can also focus on the behavior. —oh, and the knife did not hit the baby, in case you were wondering….

    As an aside, it is so much fun to read about your adventures in mothering. You are such a great mommy! 🙂

    • A belated thanks for your post, Kate! Thanks for the advice – and the great story about your friend. I’ve been trying to channel both of you!

  2. I’m having the same struggle over here! I feel bad saying “no, stop, don’t touch that, etc.” all day long (not to mention that it’s exhausting), and so, I have been trying to add in some positive reinforcement, too (“You’re doing such a good job, playing so nicely,…”).

    As for the bottle transition, have you tried Dr. Brown’s Soft Spout Training Cups? We were having a hard time with L transitioning (she stopped drinking more than 1 or 2 oz. milk), but once we tried those, it was no problem.

    What are you doing to break the pacifier habit? I definitely need some advice, and then probably some support! Future post idea?!

  3. I wish I had a tip for you! I’m in the same boat. I’m starting to feel like I say “no” so many times that it’s just become white noise for my little guy, like elevator music that you barely notice. 🙂 Good luck with the cup transition! For school I pack A’s milk in a Thermos Foogo Insulated Straw Cup (stainless steel with a lid that clicks) and he likes playing with the button for the lid. Maybe your little man would like the button too?


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