A mother recently asked me this question, and I had to come up with a quick and useful answer. Her daughter is a naturally curious little girl, and the mom wanted to ensure her child’s safety as she explores and experiments. She is aware that she can say “no” 10 times before lunch, and that it has a diminishing effect on stopping or preventing undesirable behavior. Here is my answer: tell your child what you WANT them to do. This approach gives your “no” reaction for dangerous situations much more power when you use it. Your child will hear the difference and respond more quickly.
Most toddlers are more investigative than dangerous or violent throughout their day. An adult may not be happy if a child dumps out the bag of salt because it looks like sand, but it isn’t a felony either. Make your message about toddler misdemeanors and felonies have more impact by choosing your words wisely. Toddlers tune out too many “no” or “stop” reactions. When they are in danger, they don’t even look at us. If they rarely hear you use those two words, and you say them with a tone of voice that is distinctly different from your normal tone, that should elicit their attention, if not their immediate response. Telling your child what you want them to do is also teaching them how you want them to behave all the time. This is a much calmer, more instructional approach, and more effective over a full day with a toddler. And they are all full days, believe me!