How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

No Means Yes. And Maybe. And No.

Posted by , under NOTEBOOK

No means yes. And maybe. And no.

When you are conducting hostage negotiations or talks on nuclear weapons facilities, it’s very important to read between the lines. The subtext of heated mediations and dialogue is almost always more important than the overtures made by tyrant dictators or religious extremists. Or toddlers.


This weekend my son decided to binge drink on the “no” word. He nearly caused the collapse of civilization as we know it. Moreover, he decided that he was going to be Mariah-Carey-precise about what he wanted and when. His normal food? Of course not. He just waved it away. His favorite toy(s), all bullsh*t devices for lesser babies. Add to that an intense desire to hit his head on everything.

Why the hell couldn’t he have learned “yes” first?

Now, I recognize that we’ve only used the word โ€œetiquetteโ€ twice in all our posts. But toddlers have none. For Andy, the guy with one full-fledged teen, one pre-teen and one toddler, this word might appear even less in conversation than in my household. The word “no” was even cute at one point. Over time, it quickly deteriorated into a weapon my son used against me. He has machine-gunned the word at me. Screamed it. Quietly, solemnly whispered it. He has used it as a battering ram against my will. Many of us have asked:

So, what does it mean when my son says NO to everything?
Does he even understand what I’m saying?
If a tree screams “no” in the woods, does anyone hear it?

The answer is categorically: WHO KNOWS.

I respectfully tender the following video evidence (1 of 2):

Rule Number One For ToddlersStop making fun of my tiny ears. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE!

Our jobs as parents, quite in addition to the changing, feeding, protecting, bathing, burping, cleaning, disciplining, ordering, consoling and all else, is deciphering the intimate, unique language of our children. We are as qualified as United Nations translators but not paid nearly as much. For example, I know that “beeboh” means “basketball” or that by “melmo” my son does not mean the planet that ALF came from; he means “Elmo”. The list goes on: “nernie”, “c*ck” (meaning a timepiece), “staww”, “baw”, “buhrr”, “babbuu”, “guysk” — it never ends. But the crazy thing is I know what all these words mean… most of the time.

But, it seems none are immune to the “N word.” If by some marvel or act of the Almighty Something you get a child who says “yes” or “please” or “I love you” before the word “no”, please call me and/or email me so I can get all scientific and religious authorities together. We have a miracle on our hands.


On the other hand, he’s giving me hugs again these days and saying “bye bye daddy!”

What was I saying? I forget.

Rad out with these other posts:
Zombie VS Baby


76 Responses to “No Means Yes. And Maybe. And No.”

  1. Kari says:

    My son is 18 months and learned the word “no” a few weeks ago. He doesn’t scream it or anything, but now when we ask him if he wants something, he will just say “no”.

    Most of the time it’s a true no, when he doesn’t really want what I have to offer. Other times he says “no” and I put whatever I offered away and then he cries because he really did want it.. though usually for my son, if it’s something he wants and I ask him (such as “Do you want cookies?”) I get an answered with a giggle. (I usually then prompt him to say “yes” then “please”). If it’s not what he wanted, then I just get a head shake and a “no”).

    He actually did learn to nod his head yes before he learned no, but he only did it upon command and I don’t think he knew what he meant.

    • Ang says:

      uggh, the dreaded no means yes. Makes me feel like a desperate crazy woman (there’s a different between that and regular crazy, you know you agree with me;). I’ve even found myself to the point of explaining to my toddler that communication’s purpose is to arrive at an understanding between two people. if she’s lying to me all the time by saying no when she means yes, how am i supposed to trust her when she asks for the keys to my car someday???!

    • charlie says:

      You’re lucky he learned to nod “yes” to you. My son headbutts me to say it. I guess I’m thankful he is pretty contrarian.

  2. I would rather hear anything else than the word NO. Inwould rather hear him say that a dog was dying or the house was on fire. There is no more infuriating word coming from the mout of a toddler. I have yet to figure out what I am supposed to do when I hear the word. Maybe because WE use it so much with them. Don’t do this, don’t do that, no no no.

    • charlie says:

      I try not to use that word as much as possible. I attempt being diplomatic or using jedi mind tricks way more than outright stopping him. That being said, it’s a tough one. UGHHHH

  3. Dude, you gotta use the secret weapon! Whenever I get the “N” word I just go: “Fine. Let me go get Mom”. Problem solved. Works 100% of the times.

  4. Airbornedaddy says:

    I have your miracle child. As she is a costly miracle child, she may be viewed between the hours of 3-6 pm for a small fee of $20 a pop. Yes, this includes small children as well. This fee will include demonstraions on the words”yes”, “please”, “i love you”, and you will also be able to view the miraculous feat of a statistically accurate “thank you” upon reception of a requested item 90% of the time. She does know the word “no”, but she mostly uses it in proper context when asked a question. If it’s used improperly, or in weaponized form, the best deterent is a firm, “Fine, I guess you can watch from the door as Elmo goes outside to play by himself.” She recently became fused to Elmo so he’s my primary source of manipulation. On a side note, 2 more statistics you may find troubling about my miracle child are she turns a scant 2 in 3 weeks, and most upsetting for others that are not myself or my wife, ever since she was 3 months old she sleeps 12 hours a night. Every. Single. Night. With the exception of maybe 10 times. For almost 2 years now! 10-10. Don’t hate!

    • charlie says:

      So, you’re trying to make me go suicidal?

      • Mo says:

        Does it make it better if my kid does all of the above, EXCEPT the sleeping part? Which has been completely erased for the past 19 months. And well, to be honest, no sometimes does mean yes, but usually when we’re joking. Which is basically all you are able to do after 19 months of non-sleeping.

    • Britt says:

      Why??? You make me want to cry, although, I am pretty happy to say that my almost 2 yr old son does indeed say “Thank you” I have no idea where he got it from. I guess it’s ingrained pretty deeply here. I guess him yelling “Shit” all the time kinda erases that? (guess I should watch my mouth a little more, people are starting to recognize that it is indeed what he’s trying to say, not “hit”) He was an amazing baby, slept all the time..Now? I’m trying to re-grow all my hair..I’ve ripped all of it out over frustration with him. I’m dehydrated from the tears I’ve shed. When are the terrible two’s over???

    • Annie says:

      I am not a hateful person but for some reason I am feeling a lot of hate here… and a lot WHY ME? WHY? I will stop because I can no longer make sense.

    • Lacey says:

      My son says “please” and “thank you” all the time, and has not yet learned the word “no”. It would almost be preferable if he did, because instead he cries and throws things. And definately does not sleep through the night… I do seriously envy you that….

  5. Liesbet says:

    Just this last week I was marvelling at the fact that our 15-month old daughter learned the word “yes”. Well, in Dutch, that is, she says “ja” all the time. To every question. She has never said “nee” (no) before. Not once. OK, I admit that she squirms en pushes things away that she doesn’t want, she’s no complete angel. But still, I feel sooo lucky that she started with “yes”!

    • Justin says:

      My grandmother, God bless her little heart ( I giggle like a sissy school girl every time I think of this story) was watching my little sister (who is 14 years younger than me) for my mom and all day long my sister kept telling her “hunny” over and over again, however my grandma was quite perplexed that she never cried for food. Being as she was about 18 months by this time apparently my grandma thought she should be ordering fillet mignon medium rare with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with it. Needless to say, my grandma felt like an absolute idiot when I informed her later in the day that her incessant calling my grandmother a hunny was really my sister saying she was hungry.

  6. Jenny Z says:

    Oddly enough, my daughter Kara learned “yeah” and “ok” before “no”. However, once she learned “no”, she forgot “yeah” for a while ๐Ÿ˜›

    (Her first word was “cookie”, even though we’d only given her cookies maybe twice in her entire life)

  7. Or-Tal says:

    Hey! He is just practicing the power of words! Getting you to sweat all over his “N” word must be really exciting for him. Watching parents puzzled, amazed, helpless – that’s a lot of fun. It’s when I promised a drame for a “yes” or “thanks” that the kids’ vocabulary actually started to grow… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Jenny says:

    He doesn’t want to find unicorns?!! Nooooooooooooooooooooo!

    • charlie says:

      I know. I’ve failed as a parent. TOTAL FAIL.

      • Jerry says:

        Did the same thing with my son right before he turned 2. No for food, no for cars, no for all the cars on the calender, no hugs, no fives, no fistbumps, no music. The only yes I got was for his mook (pascifier) of mulk (milk). Now that we have yes, thank you, and I love you very much life has gotten back to normal. Although he still says no to “do you love your mommy (or daddy)” sometimes.

  9. Funny. I think the word “no” is more important for girls to learn, and will hopefully be used often in her teen years.

  10. Jerry says:

    Wow, our sons should hang out. They have a lot in common.

    On second thought, nevermind. I just asked my kid if he wanted to, and he said “No.”

  11. Alexis says:

    My way to combat the NO word with my charge was to start responding with “yes” – incessantly. As in, “YES, you WILL listen to me” and “YES you WILL stop hitting” and “yes, that’s right, you may not go back there and you WILL stay out here”, and after about 3 days of nonstop yes’s, Izzy finally caught on that I was totally twisting her words around and became a little pickier about when she said no, as well as adding ‘yesh’ to her vocabulary.

  12. Tracy says:

    We’re thankfully out of the “NO!” phase. That was lame.

    Now, my daughter pretty much only says “I love you” after she’s done something obnoxious and I’m furious with her: like wigging out in a toy store like a psychotic brat. THAT’S when she’ll look up at me with tear-filled eyes after I scold her and whisper, “I love you mommy. Let’s be happy because I love you.”. It’s 45% sweet and 55% evil and manipulative.

    That may or may not have happened today. I need a thousand glasses of wine.

  13. I hate to tell you, “no” gets worse as they get older. I respect that he doesn’t want something – soup, bedtime, homework… I get it. For us, the problem arises when he doesn’t want to do or try something new. *Anything* new. We’re going to San Francisco in a couple of months, and I printed out a list of 10 Fun Things to do with kids – Fun! Fun! FUN! He hates all of them. I have an eighty-year-old crochety man in an 8-year-old’s body.

  14. Katie says:

    Whiskey to the gums might be the cure to “no.” It’s either “fuck no” or “fuck yes.”

  15. Natalie says:

    Wow, seriously…The word “no” is especially fun when you tell your 16 month old to get off the chair, she says “no!”, you go over and get her down, you walk away and she runs after you and hits your leg while shouting “no!”. But then you turn around ready to be all mad and she kisses your leg and sweetly says “hallo!” Effing manipulative toddlers! ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Joanne Burch says:

    Anybody tried teaching their toddler sign language? That is supposed to help in situations like this.

    • S says:

      Yup, doing sign language since 5mo or so. Basic words only.

      From 19mo or so (21mo now) “No” came out more readily than “Yesh :-)”

      ‘No is the default setting at the moment. I think he knows that when he says “yes”, he’ll have to stop whatever he’s doing in order to do something else, even if the new stuff is fun. and that’s why it makes more sense to start with a false negative.

  17. […] our previous post, Charlie discussed the versatility of the word “no” from his econo-pack of awesome, […]

  18. Annie says:

    I recall the no phase and I am thankful that it is over. She does say the word yes and please, thank you, and excuse me but she is also 3 1/2. If you require it eventually they will do it. Until them you will just have to scream on the inside. (I wish I had more hope for the situation!) The frustrating thing is she is an only child. She has created two friends that are spiders. The first friend is Itsy and then the other is Charlotte. Itsy is a BAD spider. Any time Kate does something bad she now blames it on Itsy. “Kate why did you roll out the entire roll of paper towel?” “I didn’t! Itsy did it!”

  19. Stephanie K. says:

    C*ck means sock over at our place.

    Finn is adorable.

    That is all.

  20. Hmm. Had some witty comment all prepared but that last video demagnetized my memory strip.

    I wuv you, Finny!

  21. quicksilverNHS says:

    My son (age 2) says “No thanks” now. All the time. If I offer him something he says “Okay” or “no thanks.”

    He only says please if he wants a lollipop.
    Must work on that.

    I have NO idea where he got the “No Thanks” because I don’t even use that phrase that often (i’m a stay at home mom who talks to no one but a toddler `12-15 hours a day). Guess he just pays attention? Dunno, but the first time he said it, I reacted almost as if he’d cursed…

    “WHERE did you learn that? I’ve never heard you say that? Why are you saying that? Is this a trick? Are you going to hit me with a Tonka truck?”

    • Lacey says:

      *hugs* it’s OK… it’s only natural and rational to react to a polite toddler with paranoia and fear ๐Ÿ˜›

  22. Persephone77 says:

    I have 3 boys. The oldest who is now 15 was my worst and most difficult. “No” would have been nice..all I got was screaming and jibberish. He would get sensory overload with EVERYTHING, especially if he didn’t like what he was told. He would throw a temper tantrum for 20 to 30 min each time he had an issue. I waited for him to go hoarse but he never did. I did end up teaching him sign language once I figured out he was overwhelmed and had trouble verbalizing. It helped a great deal, but he was still hell on wheels from 10 mos to 7 1/2. Haha now I have to beg him to have a conversation with me!

  23. Dontcha wonder where they first heard the word NO? You can only hope that he continues saying NO to the right things when he is a teen!

  24. um…thongies…do those come in drunken-adult-female size?? i would totally rock them!!


  25. […] No Means Yes. And Maybe. And No.  […]

  26. Mom says:

    Apparently I’ve birthed a miracle child. He learned “peas”, “tan-kkoo”, & the adorable accompanied-by-a-head-nod-in-the-correct-way “yeah” all before “no”. We’re currently working on “yes ma’am” & “yes sir” which are coming out in something that I can’t even type. Mind you, “sit” aka SH*T is winning this race. Oh the joys of a two year old!!

  27. Annie says:

    I was able to keep the no from getting out of control by using the word stop. I never said no to her only stop. That is a hard word to say so they usually take a lot longer to pick it up. I learned this after working with toddlers for many years when I was younger. Although now every time she does something bad she says: Itsy and Charlotte made me do it. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Those are her imaginary friends. I have resorted to putting spiders that do not exist into time out.

    • Amy says:

      OMG, Annie, I almost peed myself laughing at that last line. Aren’t there days when you feel like you’ve just gone batsh*t crazy??

      As for the evil “N word”: We encountered an extra problem in that “No” is half of my son’s first name (he’s Noah). So to prevent him from associating his name with a refusal, we resorted to the annoying and repetitive “AH-AH-AH!” sound to express no.

      Except that three weeks later we realized the other half of is name is “ah.”

      Yeah, we were screwed.

      He’s 4, and despite his healthy vocabulary (he just told me the other day that a carpet was “splendid”), “NO!” still tops his list of Words That Must Be Spoken 1,000 Times Per Day — though he at least chucks “thank you” onto the end of it most times now.

      • Lacey says:

        Errr… I usually use my son’s name in place of no. “Bruce! Stop that, kiddo!” And “Bruce! That’s not nice!” and of course the nice long “Brruuuuuuuuuuce…” as a warning when he’s eyeing a ladder. He gets so mad at me, but hasn’t learned “no” yet…. and his tantrums only last a few seconds before he’s trying to figure out something else to do and get into trouble with. He has a nicely growing vocabulary at 17 months, including “thank you”, “please”, “there you go”, “snack”, “car” and “kitty”. But no “no” yet…

  28. John says:

    As a testament to the fact that all toddlers speak some ancient toddlery dialect of the English language, my 15 month old daughter thought that the Exhibit B video was the funniest thing she ever heard and asked, in her own unique way, to watch it six times. Sounds like gibberish to me…

  29. Silvia says:

    When my oldest was 2 there was a day when he said “no” to everything right up until my husband asked him if he wanted us to pay for his college education. To that one he replied “yes.” Toddlers are odd.

  30. Oz says:

    It’s okay Charlie, I have tiny ears too… I can definatly wait for my son (due March 16th) to binge on this word, and I can’t wait until my girlfriend stops saying no to everything. It’s a mircle to hear yes!

  31. Turtle-Dove says:

    While she hasn’t started the “NO” stage my daughter will now start wagging her finger at the floor going “nanananana” right when I’m in the middle of being upset over her attempting to climb a dresser or something else bad.

  32. Babe_Chilla says:

    My toddler does with “no” why Eskimo’s do with the word “snow”; develops many many ways to say it.

    Not Yet
    No Thank-You
    No Please
    Not Right Now
    Hmmmmm nope
    *shakes head violently*

    And the best one, she learned from me when I’m done trying to be nice about my use of no?


    But, I do get a lot of thank-you’s, I love you’s and “yesss” so, I guess I should be thankful.

  33. Amy says:

    My 23month old does not say “no” but he will say “Stop!” to us if he doesn’t like what’s going on or if he doesn’t want to go or put on his shirt or whatever. And he will then if that doesn’t work shoot at us with his finger. Like make a gun with his hand and make a shooting sound! He will sign please and say thank you though!

  34. Amanda says:

    My oldest daughter, she will be 7 next month, did not fully let go of the No until the age of 6. It was to the point where even Yes was proceeded by a No every time.

    Me: Do you want ice cream?
    Her: No. I mean, yes.

    The Yes came, but the No held on for dear life!

  35. Sarah says:

    All three of my kids learned “yes” before “no”. My oldest had pretty bad speech delay, so “yes” was a priority when she got therapy, my 2nd was learning to talk at the same time so I got doubly lucky there. My 3rd caught on to the “yes”, “please” and “thank you” train very quickly.
    Unfortunately, she jumped past the “no” stage at 2 1/2 and went straight for “I DON’T LIKE IT (or you, hims, that)” stage with glass shattering screeching and foot stomping to match. The best we can do is take cover.

  36. Wieneke Leefsma says:

    My son said ‘I love you’ before ‘no’. But at 18 months thats of little comfort now….
    Being a translator: don’t overestimate our salary. Indeed the skills match the ones needed for parenting (especially when it comes to ‘raising’ your customers) but the ‘payment’ is only a fragment higher.

  37. My daughter has a major speech disorder. At the age of two she had an extremely limited vocabulary that included Mama, Dada and… you wanna guess? Uh huh. “NO!” She mastered that one very early on. LOL

  38. Ariel says:

    My two year old definitely went through the “no” stage and still does it to some degree , but I don’t give him what he wants until he says yes, please and then thank you (which is tricky bc WHY should he say THANK YOU when he ALREADY has what he WANTS?) My four year old daughter is now in some phase where anytime I tell her to do something she just stares me down, like she wants to do bodily harm to me… it’s quite scary let me tell you .

  39. Kim says:

    My daughter is 17 months and chants yes in her own way all the time. When she doesnt want something she just puts her ead down and moans! I know my time is comming till she starts this tho. When we yell no to her she covers her eyes to hide then just squeals at the top of her lungs!!! Not quite a miracle child but one not riding the no train.

  40. Hannah says:

    My one year old nods “yes” emphatically. It’s actually pretty hilarious, because he’ll sign “milk” and then nod vigorously to emphasize his point. He has yet to learn “no,” other than to push away his food when he’s done and sign “all done.”

  41. charlotte says:

    so i somehow got my youngest son before the age of 3 to say please and thank you (in his baby language). But since he turned 3 he tells me no more than anything else now. My 4 1/2 year old is always says please, thank you, bless you, excuse me. all the polite things to say. I dont remember him ever going through a “NO” phase.

  42. zoe says:

    hehe. I played a trick on my boy. I didn’t teach him the word no till after he was three, and only because some other idiot taught him. My house was a no free zone.


  43. Laura says:

    I try not to use “No” very often. I use “How about this…” and “Wait a minute…” instead. Somehow, my girl learned “Noah” anyway… But, even she doesn’t use it all the time. Ha! Toddlers are so much fun!

  44. Julia says:

    The other day my husband brought my son and I breakfast in bed (we share a room currently thanks to hospital accommodations)I told my husband, “Thank you honey.”

    For the next 5 minutes my freshly 2 year old said “Gank ewe Hunnie” about 6 or 7 times.

    I forgot that he ever headbutted me or shouted no at me continuously prior to that time period.

    Toddlers are so manipulatively cute. ๐Ÿ™‚

  45. Dominic says:

    My son has officially learned to say pleeeeease before saying NO. Our nanny, and friend, taught him to say it before he gets his milk (rice milk) and a treat or before he gets a new balloon. We taught him to say it before grabbing a ball out of our hands. I am not sure what all this means but it is sure damn cute! He is 17 months old.

  46. Kristina says:

    I personally am on my second go round of toddlerhood, and “no” means pretty much anything and everything. My young one is almost 3 now and No has been a part of his vocabulary for while now, the newest use being to just frustrate me, or maybe just because it;s the easiest word to say. Here’s an example: Me: “Hey bud, why don’t you have a seat and I’ll make sandwiches?” Him:” NO! I don’t want to sit! (4 seconds of silence)I’ll sit here, and I’d like Jelly on my sandwich.” My 3 year old does say “thank you” and Please, most of the time, but that’s because I use them all the time. However it took forever to get him to say anything other than “I want” or “I need” we tried “Can I have” and were met with heavy resistance, he has since picked up “I’d like” which will save him later when the grammar nazi ask’s ” I don’t know, can you?”

  47. Jill says:

    My sister has a 2 1/2 year old right now. She recently moved, and this is a direct quote from her Facebook status: “It’s funny to watch two year olds play together – all they want to do is say “no” to each other. Ha ha, they deserve it.”

  48. Dayna says:

    My son is 2 1/2 and is currently in a partial “no” phase. His hang up is the “I don’t want _____, any more!” (insert nap, nana, to go, dinner, milk, whatever word…) Even if he wants it, he’ll deny it then scream bloody murder when I put it away. ::sigh:: At least he does say “please & thank you” at the appropriate times.

  49. Stephanie says:

    My daughter did learn “please” first, but “no” took over quickly and is currently her favourite word. Followed by “mine”.

  50. Raymond (3 yo) loves to sing and will often be humming a tune to accompany any activity when he’s in a good mood. During his extended ‘no’ phase (not over yet) he invented the ‘No no’ song. This is sung to the tune of Row, Row, Row your ….

    No, no, no, no, no,
    No no no no no, no….

  51. Christine Taylor says:

    My Daughter Is 18 Mos. At 13 Mths, I Said Come Here And She Said, “No Go.” She Uses NO Appropriately But Prefers That High Pitch Scream Only Mariah Carey Can Hit. That Being Said, She Says, Luv Uuu,Thank You Every Time, Please Most Of The Time And Yeah Frequently. Oh And Says A Blessing Before Every Meal Without Prompting. Sounds Amazing, I Know! But Let’s Discuss Her Stubbornness, That She Is Paticular, Has No Patience Whatsoever, Turns The Sucker Eyes On Her Daddy (And It Works), And Is An All Around Diva Who Never Sleeps. She Also Helps Herself To My Boobs While We Sleep. I Will Take A No Fit Any Day ๐Ÿ™‚

  52. Katie says:

    My daughter used to say either “NO” or “NOOookay.” There was no yes!

  53. Erica C says:

    My daughter only knew the word YES until she was 19 months old and was introduced to NO by all those other evil children in her preschool. Children learn what they are taught and what they are showed. So if you are constantly telling your children no no no, them don’t be surprised when they start giving it back to you.

  54. Christal says:

    My two year old has learned thank you , welcome, please and I love you before the word no. While that was fantastic it didn’t last long. We have gone from talking to someone that was verbally 5 or 6 to melting in the floor and debating every breath. I kid you not it took thirty minutes to decide whether or not she really wanted the raisins yesterday. Asked for then denied, then yelled for , then denied, then melted about , I cried. Thankfully I know this too will pass…in about 3 years my 5 year old will come back…till then she’s getting a helmet.

  55. Valerie says:

    In the place of “no” my husband’s family uses the phrase “dugga-dugga.”(short u and a vowel sound) It works wonderfully. It replaces an easily spoken one syllable word with a harder to pronounce phrase. No one knows who started it; but the idea of using a toddler’s lack of language skills against him is genius.

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.