no horizonFor many toddlers, “no” is simply no deterrent. A child highly motivated enough to hit her sibling or fellow daycare student is not likely to respond to a shout of “no hitting!”  The familiar scenario goes on: she continues hitting, after which you punish her. But did the punishment teach your toddler to control her temper? Hardly.

“Research demonstrates behavior stopped by punishment is very likely to reoccur,” notes Belly Blog. “Punishment stops the hitting for a bit, only to have it return with increased frequency.”

So how do you say “no” and make it stick?

Realize your child’s limits. That means her mental as well as emotional limits. At age 2 or so, your toddler is not developed enough to appreciate long threads of reasoning. She just knows she wants that cookie right now.

The book The Happiest Toddler on the Block (Bantam, revised edition 2008) creates a portrait of a toddler as a primitive thinker, much like prehistoric man was. So a more effective “no” is one that uses simple phrases and even repetition, such as in USA Today’s example: "You want cookie. You want cookie. You really want the cookie and you're mad, aren't you? You want that cookie right now?"

It may sound strange, but it’s a language a toddler may understand better than the complicated reasoning you may have been using before. 

Model positive behavior. It’s easier for a young child to understand what to do as opposed to what not to do. Instead of repeating “no” when a toddler refuses to, for instance, share a toy, try the positive approach: “Can you show your little brother how you are teaching  him to share?” Giving a toddler “ownership” of the behavior can help her get a better handle on her emotions.