The toddler no phase: Kiwi is 21 months

At 21 months, Kiwi has developed an ornery, argumentative streak. I know that 2-year-olds love the word “no,” and apparently Kiwi is entering the toddler no phase a few months before she officially enters her terrible twos.

Of course Kiwi isn’t actually terrible, but the no phase is strong with this one. She says “no” more than any other word by far. I knew this was coming—Peeper started her own no phase immediately after her second birthday—but repetition is slightly ridiculous.

If the terrible twos come early, the toddler "no" phase comes with it. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

My toddlers favorite word is “no”

Kiwi loves to say no—except she pronounces it “mo.” (This is a little tricky because that’s also how she says “more.” It can lead to confusion—like when we ask, “Do you want more oatmeal?” “Mo!” “?….”)

Reading a book prompts her to yell “no!” on just about every page. Hypothetical questions, as well as ones for which a negative answer doesn’t even make sense, are fair game.

“Where is the ball?”


At least *someone* is enjoying the no phase of the terrible twos. Ten Thousand Hour MamaToddler no phase terrible 2sTerrible twos, princess toddlers and the no phase - Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Fights over nothing

Sometimes I catch Kiwi and Peeper arguing—over absolutely nothing. I’m pretty sure Peeper starts it most of the time. She’ll look at her little sister and say one word:


The two of them will go back and forth—”Mo.” “Yes.” “Mo!” “Yes!” “MO!” “YES!”—over NOTHING.

I am pretty sure I’ll tell them about this and we’ll all laugh once they’re older, but these days, the fighting (which often happens as I’m fixing their breakfast and before I’ve had any caffeine) makes me want to commandeer Peeper’s noise-canceling headphones.

Sisters - the good, the bad, the ugly. Ten Thousand Hour MamaSisters in rain boots

Arguing sisters

Kiwi’s oppositional streak isn’t limited to her favorite word, no. She doesn’t let any opportunity go by to fight with Big Sister.

Sisters never lose an opportunity to fight. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Their favorite argument is over where Eric and I will sit at dinner. The seat in question is in between their booster seats. Peeper still prefers Eric and Kiwi still prefers me, overall, so it’s no surprise who wants which parent to sit in this chair—which is prime real estate for reading books to them while they eat.

Many nights both of them end up in tears, hitting the cushion while shouting “Mommy!” or “Dad!”

Silver linings to the he toddler no phase

The no phase isn’t all bad, though. First of all, it won’t last forever—Peeper is living proof of that. (Thank goodness!)

It’s helpful for me to realize that the toddler no phase (called “toddler refusal” among pediatricians and researchers, btw) is a normal and healthy part of a child’s development. Kiwi has realized that she is independent and can exert her will. The constant repetition of “no” is actually preferable to her previous method of refusal—namely, tantrums.

As a girl, it’s even more important for her to exercise her power and make her “no” known. That said, I look forward to the day when she answers my questions with the occasional “yes.”

21 months old toddler - Ten Thousand Hour MamaToddler sleep - Ten Thousand Hour Mama

PS—Looking for books that will make good use of your toddler’s no phase? These are some of our favorites! Our Favorite Children’s Books to Say No! To

3 thoughts on “The toddler no phase: Kiwi is 21 months

  • April 25, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    When I had my fourth daughter, my third was 3 1/2. She was THRILLED to have a baby sister, and announced it to everyone she met for almost a year. Even perfect strangers walking down the street… every single one. “Guess what? I have a new baby sister!” She was SO happy. And then… baby sister started asserting herself and learning to talk. Then the fun began. It wasn’t just about the younger one being in the “no” phase – it was about the dynamics between the two. The good news is, we all survived. In other words, I feel your pain. I remember it well. You are such an awesome mom, Catherine. You’ve totally got this.

    • April 26, 2017 at 10:38 am

      Thank you, Renee! I hear that about the changing dynamics. The two of them began to interact much more once Kiwi could sit up, and they had such fun together. Then Kiwi learned to crawl, then walk, then assert herself, and life is MUCH DIFFERENT. I’m excited for them to figure out some of the balance of their interactions, but I know it’s coming… partly because I’m one of 4 kids, so I’ve seen it firsthand! Also, that is such a sweet memory of your third daughter. Too cute!


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