Parenting Guru: Am I Not Allowed to Say "No" to My Toddler?

I have a two year old. That means that I'm constantly asking, "Is this a battle worth fighting?" All day, I ask myself questions about when it's appropriate to set boundaries with my toddler and when I can let some things go. For example, Do I really care if he plays before naptime? Nope. Do I care if he runs into the street? Yup. Battle worth fighting.

And when I do choose to set a boundary with my toddler, I have to choose a discipline method. I am adamant against spanking; I feel that it doesn't teach the child anything except that when you're not getting your point across to someone, it's okay to hit them. Not the message I want to send.

So usually, my husband and I revert to time-outs, which, until a few months ago, worked quite well.

But then I had my daughter, and my son learned that there were lots of new boundaries to push against. He loves her, but in his excitement, he can hug her too hard, or, in his jealous moments, he may pinch her hands or push her aside. These are behaviors that my husband and I want to eliminate, so we went to our traditional form of discipline; time-out. But it didn't work. My son would sit there, but then get up and a few minutes later, try out the same behavior. So, I did some research on other discipline methods to see what my alternatives were.

What I found was astonishing. There seems to be a growing movement that advocates a new type of discipline for toddlers, and its along the lines of distracting away the behavior. Experts, from those quoted in parenting magazines to child psychologists, seem to be saying that it will serve our children better if we distract them from their bad behaviors by being silly, showing them another option, bribing them, or even doing a "time-in" where we sit with them until they calm down, instead of putting them by themselves in a time-out.

I believe that these strategies do work sometimes. If my toddler is being rough with his sister, it's usually because he wants attention from me. If I sit down and ask him to do a puzzle with me, the distraction often works. If he doesn't want to go to bed and I do a silly walk up the stairs, he's more likely to follow me. So in some ways I do agree with these experts. However, I feel that this movement is moving us away from our role as adults who guide our children toward good behavior, and into the role of a pal who creates a fun distraction when our children make poor choices. Sometimes, the word "no" is the most appropriate parental action. Sometimes, a time-out is what's needed, because the toddler is pushing limits over and over again and distraction or silly behavior is not enough to get a serious message across. But the more I read about toddler discipline, the more I think that experts are telling us that "no" isn't the answer. Are we not allowed to just say "no" to our kids anymore? Is that so wrong? To set a boundary and create a consequence for our toddlers? For example, if my son doesn't hold my hand when we cross the street, I pick him up and carry him. He is not allowed to run across the street. That's a rule.

And as normal as that seems to me, when I read the most recent toddler parenting strategies, rules and routine boundaries are not the norm. It seems that "no" is becoming a new four-letter-word. And I just don't agree.

What discipline methods do you use with your toddler? Are you successful?

Sarahlynne loves writing for Shine as a Parenting Guru. She is the co-founder of; a place to talk about all things motherhood; from philosophies to fashion and everything in between.