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2-year-old in the No stage is throwing tantrums and acting naughty


Our 2-year-old son is deep into the “No” stage of being a toddler; every time we tell him to do something, or not do something, he responds by telling us “No.” What can we do?​


2-yr-old Tantrum

They call this age the "terrible twos" for a reason. Your son is exerting his independence and testing your limits. Now that he's walking, he's more mobile and very curious, and can explore items he could not get to when he was crawling.

Most children at this age ignore their parents, say "No" (a lot), whine and throw tantrums for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Being overly tired
  • Not wanting to stop an activity they are doing
  • Wanting something they can't have
  • Wanting attention
  • Not knowing how to respond in an appropriate way to a parent's request

Regardless of the reason your son is saying "No" to you, everyone could benefit from helping him learn to "Stop, Look, Say Okay," which is the simplified, age-appropriate version of the social skill, "Following Instructions" for young children.

Discipline is more than just giving a child a consequence when he or she misbehaves or doesn't follow an instruction. It also involves teaching the positive behavior you expect your child to use instead of the negative behavior he or she has been using.

The best way to do this with your son is to practice the skill with him. So, when you ask him to do something (or stop doing something), he should STOP what he is doing, LOOK at you and SAY "Okay" to you.  The practice, which you can do three times a day to start, can sound like this:

Mom:  "Son…"

Your son stops what he is doing.

Mom:  "Please look at me."

Your son looks at you.

Mom:  "It's time to eat. Put your trucks down and come with me."

Your son says "Okay" and walks with you to the table.

You also can make a game out of practicing the three steps, using silly or fun instructions. For example, you might tell your son, "Go tickle Daddy," "Make a scary face for Mommy" or "Go eat a cookie." In every practice, have your child stop what he is doing, look at you and say "Okay" before following the instruction.

Remember that any time you try a new strategy, there's likely to be some pushback from your son, at least in the beginning. Remain calm yet firm. If you give an instruction and he says "No" and refuses to comply, remind him of what he's been practicing and let him try again. If he still doesn't follow your instruction, give him a consequence like removing him from all activities and having him sit in a two-minute Time-Out. Set a timer that starts only when he is quiet (that means no screaming, kicking or saying "NO, Mommy") and don't give him any attention for the length of the Time-Out. When time is up, do a quick practice of "STOP, LOOK, SAY Okay" and then try giving him the original instruction again.

When your son does follow your instructions, make sure you praise him; you can even give him a small reward (a cookie, play a game together).  Over time, consistently teaching, practicing and giving consequences will pay off as your son begins to understand that using the positive behaviors you expect from him will bring good things his way.  

Boys Town has a wonderful book called Common Sense Parenting of Toddlers and Preschoolers. You can find it at  It's full of great advice and practical, straightforward tips on teaching, praising and disciplining young children.