Anyone who’s ever had to communicate with a 2.5 to a 3.5 year-old knows that even the most common activities can turn into challenges in a matter of seconds.

And when that happens, sentences such as “I don’t want to eat”, “I don’t want to go outside”, or “I don’t want those blue trousers” can ruin not just that particular moment, but also you and your child’s entire day.

Rigidly sticking to your views isn’t the answer, but neither is always doing whatever the child wants you to. Especially since most of the times they refuse things that they secretly really wish for.

So, what is the solution?

According to Russian psychologist Anna Bikova, in order to get children to do some of the things that they won’t do, parents should try to take them out of the context and to recreate the world around them. It may sound a little pretentious, but here are a few examples of how you can realistically make use of this suggestion in everyday life:

  • No! I won’t put my shoes on!
  • Ok, then, why don’t you let them hop on your feet on their own (using a playful voice). The shoes take a step back… And off they go! The right one passes the left one and hops right on your foot!
  • No, I won’t eat!
  •  Ok, don’t eat. Let’s just sit at the table and watch everyone else eat. Oh, hey, look at that potato floating in the soup! (potato, meat, rice etc.) Why don’t we try to catch it!

And then you catch all the vegetables and meat with a spoon. You can replace the entire concept of lunch with, say, a fishing expedition.

  • No! I won’t sleep!
  • Ok, don’t sleep. We won’t nap today. We’ll just sit on the bed and wait for daddy (or mommy) to come home.

The child will agree and will fall asleep within 5 minutes, because he’s in fact tired, but he has no idea that he is.

  • No! I don’t want take my clothes off!
  • Ok, then don’t. You don’t have to. Just go to sleep with your clothes on. But let’s just set your belly free. Your belly has to be free from the buttons and zippers. And if you really want your belly to get some rest, you should also take your trousers off. But that doesn’t mean you take your clothes off.  
  • No! I won’t go out for a walk!
  • No walk today. But how about we go out and look for a hidden treasure? Where’s your plastic shovel? Go get it and let’s hurry, before someone else finds it!

On the other hand, kids this age don’t like to be refused, they don’t like to hear the word “no”. When they do, they start to protest and stop listening to any argument that may follow.

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So, instead of saying “no” to your child, you can say “yes”, and follow up with explanations. The important thing is to make your child feel like his views have been accepted and understood, even if you can’t satisfy all his demands.

Here are a few examples:

  • I understand that you want to stay longer at the park. But it’s evening already and it’s time to go home. Let’s think about all the fun stuff we can do once we get there!
  • I understand that you want this toy. But I don’t have any money right now. We’ll come back next time and then we can buy it.
  • I understand that you don’t want your milk right now. It’s still very hot. But let’s try to cool it together, by blowing in it.