Recently our 2.5 daughter started being really annoying about doing simple daily things, like brushing her teeth, dressing, undressing, putting on shoes to go out, etc. Often we need to negotiate up to 20mins to get her to put her shoes to go out, even though we are going to a place she really wants to go and will enjoy (e.g. playground). She would say NO, lie on the floor, cry when we actually try to put the shoes on and take them off if we are successful, etc. Its just unbearable anymore.

We have tried the obvious things, like letting her choose between two options, but she would always pick a third option (which is usually inappropriate) or just says she will NOT do it and cries. Its much worse when we are at home rather than anywhere else, but still it does happen.

  • 10
    That's really tiring and stressful (and wastes a lot of time). We have experienced a lot of such phases of "rebellion" and NO-to-everything. If it's about places she likes to go, have you ever cancelled your plan and e. g. not gone to the playground that day when she constantly refused to take her shoes on, so that she felt a consequence of her behavior?
    – BBM
    Oct 22, 2011 at 10:46

7 Answers 7


It appears that she values control which can be a positive trait is trained properly. Children are egocentric and at times seem to thrive on being center stage while manipulating parents as puppets. The challenge for you is to not be controlled by her behavior.

Attention adds energy to their efforts. Removing/limiting your attention takes away much of her motivation.

Offering choices as described above is an appropriate method for empowering her and filling her need for control in her world.

Consequences add boundaries for her control. If she refuses the choices given, then she is choosing the consequence. It may be that the trip is canceled, an immediate return home, or time out.

Another option is to allow her to proceed with her decision (if it does not endanger her) and let her experience the consequences. For example, go to the park or at least car with no shoes on. When she complains, then offer the shoes that you chose and without her knowledge brought with you.

Removing the battle and becoming indifferent to her protest will take away much of the incentive for her protest. Remove yourself from her presence, ignore acting out behavior, and do not give eye contact or any response (unless she endangers herself). When she pursues you, remind her that when she has done (fill in desired action) you will respond and not before. Total indifference is the key. She can choose her action, but she will not get your attention until she acts in the manner that you want to reward.

This works especially well if there is another child who is behaving. Immediately give that child your attention stating verbally, "I like the way you are (appropriate action)".

You attention is the greatest reward a child craves. Negative or positive they thrive on it. You must call attention to her appropriate behavior continuously. As parents we often just expect the appropriate and react only to the inappropriate. A child craving attention quickly learns that I get more of what I want when I am inappropriate. I challenge you to "catch" and comment describing the desired behavior continuously and ignore the inappropriate to turn her thinking around.

  • 6
    +1 (especially for "attention 2 second child" and "go without shoes" option - completely forgot both though used them successfully)
    – user3143
    Oct 22, 2011 at 16:18
  • My 5 year old daughter still acts this way! Especially in the morning when I want her to get ready for daycare and she refuses to get out of bed and get dressed. It seems like when time is limited is when kids want to be the most stubborn.
    – jlg
    Nov 1, 2011 at 17:58
  • 4
    @jlg: That's because that's when they have the most leverage. After all, the risks of being late to them are non-existent.
    – deworde
    Nov 4, 2011 at 9:55

Negotiation is a good thing; it is the grease that makes the gears of the world run smoothly. We don't want to discourage it. However, children must be taught that there are times when negotiating is OK and times when it isn't.

The easiest way to do this is to give commands ("Say good bye, we are leaving now.") when no negotiation is to be accepted and to ask questions ("Are you ready to leave?") when negotiation is allowed. This construction can even be used for alternatives. "You may have juice or water, please pick one" is a command and the child picks one or gets nothing. "Would you like juice or water?" is a question, so the child asking for milk or soda is OK, as is the parent responding negatively and offering another alternative.

Be clear and intentional with this .. toddlers cannot read our minds and aren't good with subtle context differences. The kid should not be expected to know that "Are you ready to leave?" really means "Say goodbye, we are leaving now.". If you meant command, but spoke question, then apologize and rephrase.

When a command is given, apply consequences for disobedience or defiance. When the command is not given, and the child negotiates, do not apply consequences and negotiate back. If the child stops negotiating and starts demanding or being unreasonable, make the decision and issue a command. If on the other hand a negotiated settlement is reached, honor it.

  • 7
    +1 Questions vs. Commands is a great distinction to make, and I think a lot of people use them interchangeably without considering the message that might be sending to children.
    – user420
    Oct 24, 2011 at 17:07
  1. Try a different set of choices. "Go in shoes X or not to go at all?"

  2. Invent extra positive reinforcements. As far as toothbrushing, we had one miraculosly happen (e.g. initiated by my oldest himself) - he wanted to always pour out the remaining water used for rinsing from the cup. So we always had a "you get to pour out rinsing water from a cup if you brush well" carrot.

  3. At 2.5 she may be a bit too young, but try "merit badges" approach. She gets a specific badge (a star cutout) to put up in her room for doing a specific task (toothbrushing well) or for "generally behaving well today"

  4. As BBM said in a comment, one of the approaches is to try the power of consequences - at 2.5YO kids already understand them to a certain degree.

    • "If you don't get dressed by the time {CUTOFF TIME}, we are NOT going to playground because it will be closed".

    • "If you don't finish toothbrushing by X time, we won't have time for a bedtime story".

    Important thing is to be consistent - if you promised to withhold X as consequence, 100% withhold it no matter how much of a tantrum she throws when she realizes she's not getting that story.

  • 5
    +1 for 'be consistent' - at that age, they need to know that the consequences are always the same.
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 22, 2011 at 22:21
  • 2
    @RoryAlsop, consistency is key for most ages. My mother-in-law is a middle school teacher, and if she weren't consistent, they'd eat her alive. Having taught college level courses, myself, the same thing applies there as well.
    – rcollyer
    Nov 9, 2011 at 23:15

I have found over the years to word my questions and directions carefully. If I will accept "yes" or "no" as an answer, then I ask a question that invites a yes or no answer. If not, then I ask a question which allows for an either __ or __ answer. *I believe in the rule that you give children no more options than the # of years they are in age. So for 2 years she gets 2 chioces. If she picks a third, you respond "that isn't a choice do you want _or ____." It will be trying for a while, but the key is being consistant! You must stick with if even when you are frustrated and tired! If you get tired of the battle (and it can feel like a battle) and give in, then it will make her question you more often. Stick with it and before too long she will realize that she needs to do this or that. I thikn it is alright to also let her know when she gets to be the one who makes the choices. You can even say "mommy/daddy get to pick where we are going. When we there you can pick what we do first." Help her to understand that she does have control over somethings and you have control over others. This is a hard lesson to learn ... for kids and parents! Besh of luck and hang in there!


1-2-3!! When a choice fails or there is no choice then we resort to "do it by the count of 3 or you'll be on the naughty-step". There's something about about the timer that just makes humans want to react and do something - like the phone ringing (I must answer it!!). Good luck!!

  • More like the phone ringing (I must screen it!) haha :) Good advice though, I try the 1-2-3 thing as well.
    – jlg
    Nov 1, 2011 at 17:56
  • 2
    I never cared for "1-2-3". The child will learn quickly that compliance is not needed until the parent starts counting. It also is confrontational, escalates emotional intensity, and requires threatening the child. Better just to give the command, and if there is no compliance, apply consequences.
    – tomjedrz
    Nov 5, 2011 at 18:50
  • 1
    I would suggest you maybe counted to aggressively? The trick here is to have a tone that implies you are giving them time to comply, rather than your fuse is running out. Further to that when you get to 3 you have to calmly carry out the punishment rather than be angry.
    – noelicus
    Nov 7, 2011 at 9:47

You cannot negotiate with a 2.5 year old. They just don't understand the concept. From your description, it sounds like you might have an underlying power issue.

Does you toddler insist on doing routine tasks such as

  • Opening and closing doors
  • Switching lights on and off
  • Putting the nappy/diaper bag in the bin/bucket?

If not, don't bother reading any further. Otherwise, keep reading.

It can be fun to teach your two-year-old to do these things, but it can quickly become a habit and she can totally lose it if you do one of these things just once instead of her.

If this is the case, you have a tyrant on your hands so you need to stage a coup d'état. Here's how we did it. It requires that your toddler have her own room and a lockable gate so she can't freely come and go at night.

One night right before her bed time:

  1. Throughout the bedtime routine, restrict your talking to giving instructions and saying goodnight.
  2. After changing her clothes and nappy/diaper, put them in the laundry and bin and make sure she sees you doing that instead of her.
  3. Pack up all her toys and take them out of her room. (Allow her to keep her teddy bear, though.)
  4. Turn off the lights yourself instead of allowing her to do it.
  5. Close the gate to her room instead of allowing her to do it.
  6. Put her in bed and tuck her in instead of allowing her to do it.
  7. Keep lighting to an absolute minimum. This includes any hallway lights, for example, that she could see when standing at the gate in her doorway. (If she has a night-light, continue to use it. Children need just a bit of light so they can find their way in the dark.)

I can guarantee she will be screaming throughout the whole process as she sees her regime come crashing down. Despite step 5, expect her to get straight out of bed, stand at the gate and protest. (The point of step 5 is to establish routine, not keep her in bed.) You need to be strong and not cave in. If you cave in, you would have upset her for no reason.

In the morning, your toddler will be completely different and much more pleasant. You will need to continue showing her that she isn't in control, so don't let her switch off a light, close a door or dispose of a nappy/diaper. It seems counter-intuitive, but it makes sense once you start to understand what toddlers really need. Despite toddlers readily assuming the role of tyrant, power over their parents is a burden that stresses them out. Once you take away that burden and replace it with routine, you will have a happy and compliant toddler. And you will also be much happier.


I don't understand this question, as you never 'negotiate' with a child. You can explain your reasoning if you must but basically you are in charge. You can reward/you can punish.
Often times I find myself in the situation where I am not sure why I said no to a particular thing. If my child asks me in a polite way why I said no I can answer, I'm not sure I am going to change my mind. However, in the same situation, if it becomes a negotiation or a tantrum the answer sticks even when I am unsure.

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