How to Respond When Your Kiddo Tells You “No”

What to do when your child tells you “no” after given an instruction. Get step-by-step guidelines for baby through 8 years old.

Stubborn toddler



A favorite word among toddlers. A frustrating word among parents.

Many parents are thrown off when their sweet child one day responds “no!” when told to do something.

So what are some logical consequences for telling Mom “no” when told to do something?

One mom shared a problem she faced with her toddler:

“I struggle with her telling me no when she doesn’t want to do something I want her to eat or walk with me to get ready for her bath.”

What To Do When Your Kiddo Tells You “No”

What do you do when you give your child an instruction and she replies “no”?

The exact course of action, of course, depends on the age of the child.

Know What She Means

One thing you need to be sure of is what the child means when she says “no.”

Most children repeat words incessantly when they first learn them. So a young toddler might be saying no to everything even if she doesn’t mean “no.” 

You don’t want to respond with a consequence if the intention of your child wasn’t truly “no.”

How to Respond When She Does Mean “No”

First, let’s discuss what happens when you give instruction and the response is no. 

I would first respond, “You don’t have the freedom to tell Mommy no. It is time to XYZ. Say ‘yes, mommy’ ”

I might even throw “That is not a request” in there.

See this post for a discourse on “you don’t have the freedom to” and this post for a discourse on “that is not a request.” You can also consider “I didn’t ask if you wanted to.”

>>>Read: 7 Phrases To Help You Avoid Losing Your Temper as a Parent

I would then wait for the child to comply.

You have to mean it when you say these things. When you tell your child she can’t talk to you that way, you have to believe it yourself.

You also want to remain even-tempered. Say it like you mean it and like you are in control of the situation. Be matter-of-fact. Look at your child and wait for her to comply.

Some children will then comply. 

Many will not.

For those who do not, I would then get the child and carry the child to the place you told her to go (like the bathroom).

I would add in:

“Too bad. I guess I will have to carry you since you can’t obey Mommy.”

At this point, many children will squirm and say, “I’ll walk! I’ll walk!” (or grunt something similar if she is a non-talker).

Hold your ground. Say, “Great! Next time I ask you, you can walk. You have already made your choice this time.” or “Sorry, Mommy gave you your chance and you decided to not listen. Now I have to carry you. I wanted you to walk, too. Next time you can remember this and walk.” 

Of course, not all direction is telling a child to go somewhere. If you are telling your child to stop doing something, you might respond by removing him from the situation.

So in summary, you are going to:

  1. Respond when your child tells you no
  2. Wait for your child to comply with your response
  3. Carry out your instruction

Age-Specific Reactions to Your Kiddo Telling You “No”

Let’s take this a bit more age-specific. Read through each age because I build on it all, so if you have a toddler, still read through the baby and pre-toddler sections.

Baby-12 Months Old

With this age group, expect that you will tell them to do something or stop doing something and they will not listen.

This is nothing to stress about–that is normal. Your goal is to work toward getting your baby to listen to you. It can be done!

When you give your baby an instruction, make sure it is a simple, one-step direction. 

If she does not listen, follow these steps:

Call the child by name and wait for her to look at you.

Then give the direction. Most children in this age group won’t be saying “no” and continuing on their merry way. Most will simply look away and continue with what they were doing. Some might scoot right out in the other direction–laughing as they go. Even though they aren’t saying no with their mouth, they are saying it with their actions.

You might give another chance and wait for her to obey. You might move right on to the next step.

When she doesn’t listen (not if, when), you go to her immediately and stop her from doing what she is doing or bring her to do what she should be doing.

Is she touching something she shouldn’t? Tell her not to. If she keeps touching, go pick her up and move her somewhere else. The logical consequence in that is that she is moved. Tell her “We don’t touch the xyz.”

Then, give her something else to do. Distract. Redirect. 

>>>Read: Distraction as a Discipline Tool

Are you at church or the park and she is moving away and not coming back when told?

Get her and hold her on your lap.

Her logical consequence is she doesn’t get to be down and moving about freely. If she can’t listen when she is free, then she will sit on your lap.

The key with this age group is to make the obedience happen.

Don’t tell them no and then allow them to keep going when they decide to not listen. If you know you will do that, it is better to not say no at all.

Give the direction, if they won’t obey, help them obey. 

Then direct the attention elsewhere.

Redirect and distract. That is the key for babies.

Read more about discipline for babies:

Pre-Toddler: 12-18 Months

Much of the baby suggestions above apply to this age group.

There will be a lot of testing going on with this age. Your little one will do things just to see if you will say no.

She will ignore you to see what happens.

She will also really want to continue her fun, and listening will mean she has to stop it. Here is how to respond when she ignores your instruction or tells you no.

First, get your child’s attention by calling her name. Establish eye contact. 

Give your instruction.

She says no.

You give your “you don’t have the freedom to..” speech and re-give your instruction. 

>>>Read: Discipline Phrase: “You don’t have the freedom to…”

She says no.

Now you move to helping her obey.

You might have to hold her on your lap until she is ready to listen (like I did with Kaitlyn during her first mini-fit).

You might have to pick her up and take her where you want her to go as we do with the baby age group.

You might have to remove her from that basket of decorations seh won’t stop playing with.

You might even have to stick her in her high chair until the dishwasher is loaded since she won’t stop pulling dishes out (yep, did that with McKenna when she was a pre-toddler).

Right now, you are working on establishing right habits.

You don’t want your little one to learn he can sometimes ignore you and you will let it slide.

If you sometimes let it slide, why would he ever listen consistently? He won’t be more consistent than you are. He will always find it worth their time to give ignoring you a shot.

Remember pre-toddlers are always testing testing. 

But the good news is they are also young. They are still learning.

A hard thing is they also don’t care about much. You can’t “take a privilege away” from a pre-toddler. 

That is why you give the instruction, then help them obey. Require obedience and help make sure it happens.

With this age, still offer distraction and redirection. You also want to introduce substitution.

So your logical consequences here are that the child is not allowed to continue doing what she is doing and/or she is required to do what you told her to.

You might need to have some sort of a “time-out.” I did something like this with the highchair. I was unable to physically prevent McKenna from pulling dishes out, so I put her in the high chair.

If I had been able, I probably would have held her in my lap for a while so she would get a more clear message that what she was doing wasn’t okay. 

>>>Read: How To Use Time-Out Effectively

If something is being misused, I would also take that away.

Say she is hitting the dog with a toy. Tell her to stop.

If she doesn’t, take the toy away. You might even take the dog away (not forever, just put the dog somewhere out of her reach for now).

Make it clear she needs to listen to you. But don’t think keeping the toy away for a week is going to make any more of a statement than keeping it away for an hour or until the next nap is over. Her memory is not that strong and she doesn’t care that much.

Toddler: 18 months up to age 3

This is a large age range to group together.

If your child is closer to the 18 month mark, stick with the pre-toddler recommendations. If your child is close to three, consider the preschooler recommendations to see if those are appropriate for your individual child.

What do you do when your toddler tells you no?

For the younger toddler, one of the most precious things to her is the ability to move around on her own. If she won’t obey, and you carry her instead of letting her walk, that is one of the most devastating things in her world right now. 

If she is misusing something, then she loses it for a time. The length of time will vary based on age.

Go with your gut on what is best for her. When you give a consequence, the purpose is to elicit a change in behavior from your child, so make the consequence something that will bring about change.

Have it be long enough to make an impact, but not so long that she forgets about it. Then it is like a great gift when she gets it back (kind of like when you find money in your pocket. You feel like you suddenly have more money…but in reality, you don’t).

I would say anywhere from one day to seven days would be appropriate in this age group.

If she is playing with toys and you tell her it is time to clean up and she says no, then perhaps a loss of those toys is appropriate. 

She might even be starting to have a love for something. Perhaps you have TV time that you can take away.

“Uh-oh. You didn’t obey Mommy. That means we can’t watch Elmo today.”

When she cries over the loss of a privilege or toy, be compassionate. “I know. I am sad too. I wanted you to be able to play with your ponies.”

So, you give your instruction.

She says no. 

You give the now well-known “you don’t have the freedom to…” or “that actually wasn’t a request…” and re-instruct. She says no again.

You then consider what she is misusing. If she is refusing to end and activity, then she might lose that activity.

If she has an activity she loves that is in her future for that day, she might lose that.

If she won’t walk, you carry her. 

Remember to remain calm and matter-of-fact. Do not be peronsonally offended if she doesn’t listen to you. Respond in a calm manner.

See also: 

As your toddler gets older, she will better understand the consequences for her actions.

Preschooler: 3 and 4 years old

Logical consequences get easier as the child gets older. The child cares about more, so you have more to work with.

During this age range, I would start expecting more obedience the first time you ask without giving the “freedom to…” speech and giving a second chance.

I would still offer the phrase. “Oh, you don’t have the freedom to tell Mommy no. I guess you won’t be playing video games today.”

>>>Read: Train To Obey Your Voice

But do always remember context. If your 3 year old is thirty minutes late for her nap and she is telling you she doesn’t want to go potty, now is not the time for being a stickler to your one warning rule. Now is the time to be patient and understanding. 

You can say something like, “”I know you don’t want to, but you need to” in these situations.

Once your child turns three, she is old enough to start to have moral training–to know “why.” You want to start to train her heart, not just her habits.

>>>Read: Preschoolers and Discipline: Explain Why.

Train during times of non-conflict why it is important for her to obey Mommy.

Explain that you are trying to help her to learn and grow. Explain that naps are important and why. Explain why we take baths. Fill her in on it. It doesn’t need to be a secret.

Most 3 year olds should be obeying about 70% of the time. 4 year olds are probably 80%.

This means sometimes your child will disobey, even when you have been super consistent.

But if she is saying no or refusing more than these percentages indicate, it is time to evaluate the situation. Is she feeling Wise In Your Own Eyes? Address this issue.

For the preschooler, you give your instruction. 

She says no.

Depending on the context, you might repeat, and you might not.

If you repeated and she still said no, you move on to removing privileges.

You can remove TV, friend time, video game time, toys, etc. Remember to think about the context of her saying no. What did she say no about? Can you tie a consequence into that circumstance? What was misused? Can you have a consequence in conjunction with that?

See also:

5-8 Year Old

If you have been consistent up to this point, it can really be very simple to correct a 5-8 year old if they tell you no.

If five-year-old Brayden told me no, I only had to look at him and say, “You do NOT have the freedom to tell Mommy no.” That solved it.

If it were a persistent problem, I would take it more seriously. 

If it were a persistent problem, I would look into the child’s freedoms and also work on the moral training. She is old enough to understand why we do what we do. She might not like it, but she can understand why.

With this age you give your instruction.

She doesn’t obey.

You still need to take into consideration context. You need to consider context so long as the person is breathing–always consider context.

Based on your context analysis, decide if it warrants immediate action or a gentle reminder. 

If immediate action is needed, remain calm. Remain full of empathy. Don’t lecture or get mad.

Inform the child that it is too bad she decided not to listen, and now she has lost xyz privilege. If she cries, sympathize about how sad you know it is and how you wish she could have xyz privilege, too.

At another time, during non-conflict, talk about the virtues she is showing a lack of. Perhaps you could find a scripture story or another story that illustrates the virtue. Read it to her and talk about what the story talks about. Talk about ways she could show that virtue. 

How to respond when your kiddo says no


The above are some ideas of how to react when the “no” comes your way. It is so important and helpful for you to have a game plan for when your kiddo tells you no.

It is most effective, however, to strive to prevent such things. Despite your best prevention, nos will still happen, but hopefully less often and with fewer problems if you have done some prevention beforehand.

Give Warnings

Give your child a five minute warning before an activity will end or before a dreaded activity will begin. “Hey Kaitlyn” pause for response and eye contact “In five minutes it is time for nap.”

This will help prevent the “nos” when it is time to transition. Some children have a harder time with transitions than others, and for those children (like Brayden), a warning is vital.

Give Choices

Sometimes it helps to give your little one choices. “You can walk to the bath or I will carry you. Which do you want?” If your child doesn’t choose, you choose.

You choose to carry, and you follow through on the carry.

Teach “Yes Mommy”

Teach your child to respond to you with a “Yes Mommy!” when you give an instruction. This is the opposite of “no.” You are looking for the automatic response to be “yes!:

See How to Get Your Child to Obey with a Simple “Yes Mom”


Training in the moment is great and sometimes even vital.

It is best to train in non-conflict times if possible. See these posts for help with that:


Children are going to say no to you at times and try to avoid doing what you have told them to do. That is normal. Kids make mistakes. This isn’t cause to stress out.

Sometimes when my kids say no, I pretty much ignore it.

I remember one morning when Kaitlyn was three, Kaitlyn told me no when I told her it was time for a bath. She told me she didn’t want to.

I told her that yes, it was time for bath, went in the bathroom, and started getting things ready (read: I gave her a chance to surrender with dignity).

She followed me in about one minute. 

I don’t want my children feeling like they are unable to express themselves at all. So I look a lot at the intent behind the no.

Is it in order to be defiant toward me, or is it the way they can express, in their limited vocabulary skills, that they don’t want to do something?

I have no problem with them not wanting to do something like take a bath. So long as they do it anyway. The love of such things comes and goes. Sometimes I don’t feel like showering, either. 

But I will also take opportunities to teach them the better way to communicate things. I will tell them what about the statement was not okay and what they should say instead and have them repeat that.

If the intent is showing signs of problems, I know I have a bigger issue than just what to do at the moment the word “no” is said.

I have a heart issue– an attitude issue.

This is something logical consequences, time outs, whatever will not fix. This is something moral training fixes, and that takes time. That doesn’t mean no consequence should come.

Sometimes, however, merely being required to do the thing they don’t want to do anyway is the consequence. 


When your child tells you no, remember the basics: give your phrase (something like, you don’t have the freedom to tell mommy no), re-instruct, then apply a consequence if you still get a “no”.

If you are consistent in your patterns and expectations, your little one will soon be listening most of the time when you give instructions.

Related Posts

This post originally appeared on this blog September 2010

What to do when your child tells you no