I have a 2.5-year-old son. It happens mostly when tired but I'll ask him if he wants something and he will say no. Then when I go to put it away or do something else, he freaks out that he wants it. Then when I take it out again, he'll shout that he doesn't want it. And this continues until I stop. I realize that like most everything it's probably a phase but I'm just not sure of the best way to react to it. I'm looking for anyone who might have had experience with an indecisive toddler. Do you have creative ideas of ways to handle it without making us both crazy - suggestions?

  • My son just turned three and will do the same thing. He says I'm hungry, not even a choice involved and when I go to get something he flips his lid. I put away the food whatever it is, and he ratchets it up a notch and screams harder.This goes on for two hours at a time at times, and the requests will change. He's hungry he's not hungry...then when I talk to him and say its ok to be upset. Lets go do etc. He will change the subject I want to watch an episode of Kailan No I don't want to watch an episode...etc. Then back to I'm hungry I'm not hungry. It does seem to be related to tiredness IMO
    – user6662
    Jan 24, 2014 at 4:31

6 Answers 6


Young children often are overwhelmed with options, especially when tired. When you allow him to change his mind, you are actually creating more options for him. I would suggest that you allow him to choose and make that decision final. He does not have to accept it, but his options are limited to take it as you selected, or do without.

Initially, he will likely "lose it", but if you remain consistent, this phase will pass more quickly. The challenge will be to not reward the protesting behavior. Be matter of fact and follow through with his decision. He will learn to value his choices and your limits and both of you will be happier!

  • 1
    I would just add to this, that you respond with words stated calmly like, "Oh, I'm so sorry! Oh well, its already put away - maybe next time." Sound empathetic. Then, try to distract him with a story or something he enjoys that is calming before he has time to think about it too much and lose it. Nov 21, 2012 at 4:33

Would you be concerned with the mind changing if he wasn't shouting and/or misbehaving?

Don't be concerned with the indecisiveness ... be concerned with the acting out and inappropriate behavior. If he changes his mind, but expresses it calmly and doesn't throw a tantrum, good for him.

Apply consequences for the shouting and the persistent lack of compliance. Don't worry about the decision making for another year or two.

  • Very true, I have yet to see a decisive toddler, I worry more about behavior overall rather than moods and choices I know he will grow out of.
    – MichaelF
    Nov 1, 2011 at 18:14

It sounds like he is looking for control. This is not unusual at this age and very frustrating for parents. One way to look at it is ... great his development is right on track! Now it is time to keep it moving in the right direction. If he says "no" he doesn't want it, then fusses when you put it away, give him one more chance. If he again ignores it, put it away again. This time ignore the fussing (I know it is hard) and say "you can play/hold/do something else now." Try to find a distraction, another toy, a song, anything that interests him. Once he sees that he can have your attention and control in other ways this will stop. And congratulations, he seems to be right on target!

  • You sentence "Once he sees that" is unclear to me, is there a word missing? Nov 12, 2011 at 18:30

I would recommend asking questions in a way that doesn't require a yes or no answer. Instead of "Do you want milk?" ask "Would you like your milk in the blue or red cup?"

  • I do try to do that. If he is in his difficult mood, it would go like this... He would point at the red one, I would happily put the other back in the cupboard and start pouring into the red at which point he would freak out and start pointing at the one I just put in the cupboard. Then if I did switch to the other, he'd lose it again.
    – Chrissy
    Oct 18, 2011 at 21:55
  • Is it a problem to give him both cups?
    – nGinius
    Nov 5, 2011 at 23:46
  • @nGinius: I'd see giving him both cups as a problem because that would give him a choice again, which can start the argument all over again. Nov 12, 2011 at 18:29

We use a 'double check'. Sometimes he doesn't understand what it actually means when he says yes/no, so I confirm what he meant by explaining what will happen next.


Me: Are you done with your dinner?

Toddler: Yes!

Me: Ok, then I am going to take your food away (or even better: Can I eat your food? This really drives home that he is not having more food)

Toddler: OK!

-- or

Toddler: No! Not done!

In the latter case I allow him to 'change his mind'. I don't really think he does, I just don't think he fully understands what I mean by my first question. Asking a two-part question in one sentence ('Are you done with your food, can I take it away') tend to be too complex.

You may have a different issue, but I do run into this mostly when he is tired.


As Marie has said you need to follow through on his initial choice so he learns the decision has a repercussion. The best thing after that is to redirect him to something else nice - like a story on your knee. I would also try and discourage the "freaking out" behaviour and ask him to calm down (nicely) and to say please. This way he'll learn to manage his emotions and express himself.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .