How to Say ‘No’ Like a Toddler


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How to Say ‘No’ Like a Toddler

Little people get away with an impressive amount of inconsiderate dickishness. It’s time we learned a thing or two.

This bus smells like shit. Such a stink is nothing new on this route, a meandering line through downtown seemingly attractive to public farters, but this time it reeks like the real deal. The source is close… so close it could be sitting on my lap. "I pooped!" announces my toddler brightly, tipping his head back to grin up at me. This was not the scenario I imagined when I encouraged him to keep me current on his inner workings.


The Amy Winehouse lookalike beside us covers her nose with a set of black bejewelled nails and attempts to escape deeper into her phone. The bearded man across from us shoots me a look of serious contempt as if he'd never imagined anything so revolting. He is wearing a jester-style snowboarding hat that clearly indicates he's spent most mornings since 1996 vomiting bong water. Little do they know, we have six more stops to stomach. From the perch on my knee comes a chirpy approximation of "the wheels on the bus." For someone sitting in pants full of his own feces, my son is in excellent spirits. He's that guy.

When "that guy" first showed up, I had no idea I would be time traveling back to some of the more exasperating relationships of my past. If you are currently unfamiliar with toddlers, but considering acquiring one (for the long-term, or just a couple of hours while their parents go out and drink their faces off like they used to before that all was crushed by countless mundane responsibilities), it's wise to reflect upon the comparable characters you may have experienced thus far:

1. Did you have a manic roommate in undergrad who was hopeless at math and extremely specific about her pizza toppings? Did she freak out when she couldn't find her shoes/books/cheese snacks? Did she cry easily over the slightest inconvenience, and giggle uncontrollably at videos of monkeys or baby penguins? How many times did you have to clean up puke composed primarily of peach cooler?


2. Did you ever date a guy who was super charismatic, but largely selfish? Did you spend your days gazing lovingly at his profile, and your nights gritting your teeth over murderous thoughts when he woke up to tell you about his 'crazy' dream, sing you the new song he just made up, or ask you to stroke his hair? Did he make inconsistent and unreasonable demands on your time—try to convince you to blow off work to hang out with him? When you were in public, did it often seem like he wasn't really listening, or maybe he'd sometimes wander off when he spotted a particularly big and/or shiny truck?

3. Did you ever have an elderly relative or stoner neighbour who you had trouble understanding? Did you find yourself searching their face for clues as to how you should react when they talked to you? Were you unsure if the issue was one of word choice, sentence structure, or worldview? Did you ever wonder if they were purposely messing with you? What was it they were always chewing on and where did it come from?

Photo via Flikr user Andrew Seaman

If you are about to go up against a toddler, consider what you've already learned. It could help, but not much. To be clear, a toddler is not a baby. While a baby might have the same intense emotions, their communication is so vague and limited that it's easy to project some sweet and totally understandable issue as the cause of their weird, pterodactyl squawks. In contrast, a toddler has the tools to set you straight. He proves less the tragic hero, and more an agent of chaos.


The impressive and inescapable thing is that a toddler is able to achieve a superior level of inconsiderate dickishness and get away with it better than any of the jerkface adults you may have encountered up to this point. Part of their wicked power comes from being tiny. Totally out of scale from your usual opponents, it is easy to be distracted—and dominated—by their oversized eyes set against a miniature composition. The other problem is that they are often right.

"Time to get your shoes on!" I'll tell him from the hallway. I am about to be late for work if I don't hustle my son to daycare for his 8.5 hours of mini- Lord of the Flies.

"No," he calls back nonchalantly. I stomp towards his room and appear menacingly in the doorway to find him lounging on a pillow looking at a picture book. He doesn't even look up at me. He really doesn't give a shit. And he's… not wrong.

It must be impossible to imagine why a capable adult person, seemingly in charge of all that happens in the world, would choose the struggle of some place called "work" when there are illustrations to admire—maybe even nacho bits lost under the couch waiting to be consumed. In many ways, the word "no" is the key to everything. Do you want to wait your turn? No. Share nicely with others? No. Do you want go to bed before 2am? No.

I personally believe it is most productive (for survival's sake), to consider the toddler not as an irritant, but as an inspiration. What if we could all live like the toddler? Imagine the luxury of being naïve to cultural norms and the traditional scripts of social interaction. You are totally in touch with your desires—without the aid of millennial inspiration boards, or "the top six habits of the most effective/inane people" goal charts. The next time you walk into a cramped elevator with a particularly stunning or freakish-looking individual, imagine how the toddler is free to openly stare. Verbal pleasantries are superfluous. Spend the duration of the ride making a study of the other passenger's most interesting features. Go full creep, you are adorable and your subject should feel blessed to have your undivided attention.


Maybe you find yourself held hostage in a lengthy meeting. Perhaps the client is particularly boring, or you just don't feel like sitting around anymore. If you were a toddler, you could get up and leave without apology. Your boss is a fool if she doesn't understand that there is totally something better you could—and should—be doing.

Maybe it would be more fun in the lunchroom. Do you see something you want? Don't be discouraged by the fact that someone else is already using it; they are just modeling how the item is best enjoyed. If they are smaller or weaker than you, just yank it out of their hands and run away. You might grant them a little push so they will be slow to follow.

See, self-actualization is just a de-aging time machine mishap away. But seriously, if you currently, or might one day find yourself in a (semi-abusive) relationship with a toddler, stay strong. Patience is vital. In particularly challenging moments, when your toddler (roommate, bandmate, tech startup CEO) is feeling all the feels, imagine the world through their eyes. Opt to reject emotional maturity and 'being present.' Who cares? Build yourself a happy place in your head to shelter you for the duration of the tantrum. Take a nap; fill your sippy cup with beer. It is awesome there… and very rarely smells like poo.

Lead photo via Flickr user Francisco Carbajal

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