OBoy the Contrarian


He had whined and demanded oatmeal the whole time we were getting dressed. I mostly ignored, reworded, and redirected. By the time we got downstairs I finally got a straight “May hab O-meal for brekist peeze?” out of him. (We’re working on manners and asking polite questions. I must say ” ‘I want’ is not a question.” 382,937 times a day.) He asked so nicely, so I started up a pot. For a while he was at my feet, waiting impatiently as the oats cooked. By the time the timer went off, he had gone into the playroom and I could hear him driving his trains.

“Buddy! You oatmeal is almost ready!”



Kid. You whined about oatmeal from the moment you woke up this morning, you threw a partial fit that it was taking so long to cook, and now, NOW that it’s ready, you change your ever-loving mind?!?!

Hold me, friends.

**edited to add: I, of course, did not serve him anything but oatmeal that morning (a spine, I haz one), it’s just an example of how every.single.thing. that comes out of my mouth is met with conflict.**

It seems like every statement I make to my sweet little two and a half year old is rebutted. I wish I were exaggerating. “That’s hard, huh?” “No. Dat soft.” “Careful, Bud. It’s hot, so blow on it.” “It not hot. It cold.” “I need you to sit down on your bottom.” “Not sit down my bottom.” “OBoy, you’re such a big boy.” “My not big boy, my baby.”


As if repeating every direction I give 4x wasn’t enough, I’m now having to defend my most obvious assertions. (Can you tell that this is getting under my skin justalittlebit?) And really, I’m at a loss as to a strategy. I’m not about to start a “yes huh.” “nuh huh.” battle with the kid, but I also don’t think that it should just be ignored (or should it?).

I can’t tell if all this retorting is coming from a place of being funny, of testing boundaries, or at times, of defiance, and I feel like his motivation in the matter is the biggest deciding factor on how to parent is why he’s doing it. It happens in pretty much any situation, not just when he’s being given direction or is tired/cranky/hungry/groggy. It happens at perfectly wonderful, blissful moments at the lunch table over PB&Js.

Do I defend myself? Do I ignore? Do I discipline? Do I come up with a script? (As I do with whining. The only thing I ever say in response to whining is “I don’t hear whiny voices, I only hear big nice ones. Works like a CHARM.)

You guys. I can’t even enjoy conversations with my kiddo anymore. It’s exhausting and as a result I am absolutely up to my eyebrows with him by 7:00pm. Siiiiiiiiiiigh.

:: :: :: Let’s chat. :: :: ::

What would you do if your kiddo were constantly contrary?

What positively tiring phases of parenthood have you survived?

Can we give each other shoulder rubs? I’m exhausted.

40 Responses to “OBoy the Contrarian”

  1. Mo

    Yes. This. Every second of every day. Sometimes ignoring works, other times it just makes him louder and more frustrated. I too am at my witts end in dealing with it. It can’t all be filed under “terrible twos” can it? There must be more to it than that…

    I can usually talk my 28 month old down off the ledge when he asks for a banana, and once it is peeled he immediately insists on having some cheese. I’ll ask him about 5 times to make sure he is happy with his decision, or if I have had enough of the clarifying over and over, I make the decision for him and tell him he is eating the banana, and he’s usually ok with that.

    It’s good that he knows the opposites of things, right? And its great that he understands what you are asking him to do, right? But it is so maddening when all they do is shoot back the opposite of what you want done. My little guy’s favourite saying right now is a very snarky “Yes I can!” Ask him to stop playing with the curtains? “Yes I can Mommy” Please don’t take that rattle away from your sister “Yes I can!” and if he continues to do it, you get a very loud “YES I CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!” and an evil laugh as he runs away.

    I know I haven’t offered any solutions, I am in the exact same bout as you. I can’t wait to read what others might suggest.

  2. Casey

    My oldest is 21 months and the whining is killing me!! I’m going to try your script for whining and see if that helps. She has a new 6 week old brother and I know that she is just trying to get more attention, but like you said, by the end of the day I just can’t take it anymore. Sorry I don’t have any insight to the contrary 2 and a half year old, but I am looking forward to that stage later this year…not :)

  3. Erin

    My daughter is 2 1/2 too. She gets in a contrary mood occasionally (although not as often as your boy, it sounds like). Honestly, I decided that I am two old to argue with a toddler. LOL. So if it’s something that doesn’t matter (the hard vs. soft thing) I just say “Oh, you think?” and move on. If it’s an obedience thing (the sitting on the bottom thing) I tell her to say “yes, Mommy” and then she obeys or she gets consequences for disobedience. And as far as the breakfast thing goes, well, that wouldn’t fly in my house. I would just say “oatmeal is what we have” and she could eat it or not but there wouldn’t be anything else and if she pitched a fit she’d get consequences for that.

    But I just don’t engage. I really think it’s just a stage and I’m not inspired to get into long yes-huh-nuh-uh arguments with a child who puts her underwear on backwards and goes with a wedgie all day long. :P

    • Elaine

      I 100% agree with this one Erin.
      I’m a looooong time sitter and I’ve seen many many MANY two year olds. One mom I babysat for was superb with dealing with her little one. I learned a whole lot from her! There weren’t any “special” meals made for dinner if what was for dinner was “yucky”. Often, when he pushed the plate away, everyone continued. This food was of course “child safe, catering to everyone….chicken, green beans, veggies…etc. Often cut up if they needed to be but everyone had the same stuff. Anyway, If he didn’t eat, she just wrapped it up and when later he would say he was hungry, she’d say, “Good, because dinner is still waiting.” No snack, no PB & J, nothing….it was funny and often he’d throw a fit but I tell you, he’s the best eater I have ever had. The kid eats fruits and veggies like no other and he’s now three and just the sweetest. Even SALADS…with the works he chowed down!!! There was a zero tolerance on whining. She often said, “Use your big boy voice” and that was it or else mommy continued what she was doing. Simple.
      No doubt O’Boy will learn how “the cookie crumbles” in your home. The little boy above did the opposites too…but it was a phase that soon phased out so to speak lol.
      But she was so loving to her kids and they were loving back

      • AllisonO

        O, you better believe he ate his oatmeal. :) It took some convincing, but never ever was an alternative offered. I think it’s more just the con.sta.nt. back and forth. As in, even this thing that you begged for this morning now is a yes-no issue? Is nothing sacred? Eating has been really good, actually. I chose that example to show how ridiculous the conversational side of it is.

  4. Tera

    First? Microwave that oatmeal. 1/3 c quick oats + 2/3 c water for 60-90 sec, depending on how runny or thick you want it (that’s a Tera-size serving, so maybe 1/4 c oats for Oboy?). I posted a yummy cinnamon roll version here: http://bluefield5.blogspot.com/2010/03/oatmeal.html
    Second? It’ll pass. It may take until he’s 25, but eventually he won’t contradict everything you say. I know that you know this already, but it bears repeating.
    Third? I so hear you on this one. Some days I don’t know how to make it through the day with these three boys of mine. One current issue is whenever I attempt to help my 8 year old son (who has a sensory disorder and so already has trouble focusing) with homework, my 4 year old will not (will not) leave us alone. He can play by himself quite nicely for a long time, but the very minute I try helping MC, Bubby is throwing things, yelling, talking in loud voices, running around with his (loud) truck. Then MC gets upset and starts yelling and it’s just a huge hairy mess. Can’t count on Hubby for help because he travels so much and/or we have evening activities almost every day so the homework needs to be done before supper. Ugh. I’m getting worked up just thinking about it!

  5. Tera

    Oh, and have you tried laughing? You tell him something is hot, he says it’s cold, you say, oh you’re so funny, Oboy! Hahaha! Because laughing will make you feel better, even if he then tells you he’s NOT funny.

  6. Jen

    So frustrating! My daughter is 17 months, so she’s not much of an arguer (unless you count answering, “noooooooope,” to everything that’s said to her), but I do work with kids. I’ve found that ignoring it and moving on is often more effective (maybe not at first, but after awhile). It’s easier than reasoning with someone who obviously not reasonable : ) Also, this is a fantastic book: http://www.amazon.com/Liberated-Parents-Children-Happier-Family/dp/0380711346/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1327597306&sr=8-9 if you’re interested.

    On another note, I love your blog. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Mag

    Yes, it will pass! Sometimes quickly, sometimes not, and sometimes it will come back. My six year old was a very contrary 2 year old (plus we had a newborn) and then was a “Why” kid for the longest time. Then it passed. And now she’s a “Why” kids again. For EVERYTHING. But we’ve come to realize that she is a problem-solver. She likes to know exactly how things work and be in control. She’s definitely and Alpha female. As long as I take the time to explain things to her, then she is usually ok with whatever. But she needs lots of notice and advance warning on changes to the plan.

    My 3 1/2 year old is now in the midst of her “terrible twos” – she was the sweetest, most cuddly, affectionate, happy-go-lucky 2 year old, we thought we’d hit the jackpot! Then she turned 3. And we had a baby. And it all came out. And even though her nature is more easy going than her older sister, she throws fits and screams “no!” with the best of them. She’s the one who doesn’t mind if that plans of the day change, but don’t let her have a banana when she “Waaaaahnts it!” then look out!

    Then the babe… oh the babe… 8 months old and not a sleeper. Happy guy most of the time, but for goodness sake, kid, can you sleep more that a few hours at a time please!?

    God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but in our weakened and fallen state it can be hard to see how He helps us handle it. Be constantly in communication and prayer with Him!

    And remember to savour the golden moments. They can be fleeting and may not even be recognizable until it’s almost too late, but they are there.

  8. Kim

    My son John is constantly contrary. He does the same things, and he’s 4 1/2. I just ignore it . . . but since he’s 4 1/2 this might not be working. I kind of think, at this point at his age, he’s a contrary kind of guy- like my husband. I guess you need to decide if it’s a personality characteristic or a stage. I like the script idea, personally. Something about not being mean to mommy perhaps?

  9. Marlies

    Oatmeal it is!! He chose it – he eats it! If he doesn’t eat it heat it up for snack time and then again for lunch and then again for dinner! (doesn’t take long and he knows he has to choose what he wants!) :) Might sound mean but you are the parent and he is the child and soon enough he will know that he needs to listen to you – you can’t run for him all day long because you will burn yourself out!

    • AllisonO

      Of course. I should have finished the story I guess. He ate his oatmeal and no other food was offered. It’s just the verbal battle of it all. It’s exhausting in and of itself. (I can’t imagine how exhausting actually CATERING to his whims would be!) :)

  10. Amanda

    I know. Oh, I know. Trade backrubs this weekend? :) I have no solutions… still don’t know how the heck to deal with J half the time. Picking battles is something I’m still learning. Definitely reading the comments for some advice! :)

  11. Morgan

    My son is 21 months and is testing me in similar ways. I’ve taken to giving him a look that says I will not tolerate such behavior and then ‘ignoring’ him until he’s ready to obey and speak sweetly. Almost instantly he’ll tap me and start in with “Momma, Momma” which is his way of letting me know he’s ready to apologize. I think he’s just learning impulse control. I’m trying to help him figure out better ways to express his frustrations…..any ideas?

  12. Susan

    O My! There are times (many, many times) when I read your blog and I long for the days when my children were young like yours are now. And then, every once in a while, I read your blog and find myself thankful I’m beyond the young parent stage. I have no words of wisdom for you – just know that God willing, some day in your life, you’ll reach the stage I’m at now, and you will have warm sweet memories of these early times – even the challenging ones.

  13. Caitlin MidAtlantic

    Laura’s been doing that too lately. Being completely opposite (and often completely wrong)! I’m trying to ask leading questions, urging her to the right response, instead of discussing actualities. It’s less infuriating for me!

  14. Cat

    Oh, man! We’re not there yet and I don’t have a clue what the right way to handle it is! I think I would pick which ones to ignore and which ones to repeat your instruction. “Don’t touch that, it’s hot.” “It’s not hot, it’s cold.” “Well, don’t touch it. Say ‘yes, mommy’.” But I think you will just get more frustrated if you get in an argument with a two year old…wow. I liked someone’s idea above who said to laugh and tell them they’re funny. I’d be curious about if that would work.
    I sure do hope that’s just a phase, cuz it sure sounds frustrating! Good luck! :)

  15. Jessica

    This happened to us a little closer to three, and it was less about contradicting us than about not wanting to do what we requested/directed he do, and it does get better with patience, consistency, as much calm as you can muster, and some grace. But I will never forget this little story about Alex’s days as a contrarian:

    Alex: No I don’t want to do that (or some other such contrary statement).

    Mom: Buddy, you’re such a contrarian! (only a little exasperated).

    Alex: I am a happy contrarian!

  16. Elisabeth

    O Allison, I feel ya on this one! “No, that juice cuppy! Cheerios, no toast, no Cheerios!” It makes me insane. I agree with a previous commenter, Erin though. I simply do not engage on things that are trivial (I like that “Oh, you think so?” response!) With things that matter (like safety issues or legitimate back talk) I tell her she will do it or face a consequence and explain that she could get a “big owie” (don’t laugh, it works!), it’s not safe, etc. which almost always works. A few times I have had to make her sit down, and that almost always resulted in a time out.

    Legitimate back talk gets an immediate time out and a discussion of “that’s not how we talk to mommy/adults/anyone. That’s pretty rare too, but there are times that the hubs and I can tell she is being sassy on purpose.

    And once my daughter makes a choice, she has to stick with it. It sounds so much easier (and slightly snotty) written out, but the truth is, I think all kids go though this as some point or another. I like your whining response, I’m going to have to try that one!

    Raising kids not to be completely jerks is hard work! Big hugs though, you aren’t in this alone!

  17. Dawn S

    O this is So our life lately! Our 2.5 year old is so defiant/contrary/independent/hornery that some days (like yesterday), I think I will lose my ever-loving mind! And “I want” or “You want to…” are really getting old around here. He is getting better about asking politely “May I…., please?” with reminders (and *gasp* once or twice a day, of his own volition!) but it is still mentally exhausting.

    He is also more into instant-fit-throwing-with-crocodile-tears as soon as you tell him anything that he does not want to do… but thankfully he does respond to “Quiet! Listen,” and then we explain *why* we have to do the next thing….usually.

    I keep reminding myself of the good days — when we go to a restaurant and waitresses stop by to compliment us on how well behaved and polite he is, of how cute he is when he obeys the first time… and I know that eventually, he will get it.

    When I was an angsty-teen, my mom would wish on me a kid just like myself as her biggest punishment, and so far, her wish has been granted. Only I’m a stricter, no-non-sense mom, so she is amazed at how I handle things so far, which also makes me feel proud.

    Big hugs — you’re my hero for handling 2 boys already — I’m just praying #1 “gets it” more before #2 arrives in April and incites entirely new attention-grabbing battles!

  18. elizabeth

    J has been like this for at least 6 months. it’s…. pleasant. he asks for something and then wants something else instead. i tell him that i only make one meal, so he can eat it or wait until the next meal. he also does this with other things. like today, he told me he wanted me to get rid of his balloon. i confirmed 10 times, saying, so you want it to go in the trash and be gone forever? him: yes, throw it away, mommy! ok, i popped it and walked to the trash. he starts bawling and says i want to hold my balloon!! um, too late, buddy. seriously, this is the story of our lives. it’s so frustrating! i feel your pain!

  19. elizabeth

    oh, and i do not discipline. i ignore if he’s continually contradicting me. i tell him that if he wants to be nice, he can come play with mommy.

  20. elizabeth

    3rdly (lol), he thinks it’s hilarious to answer wrongly. like, what letter is this, J? (when he knows it’s A) P. heheheheh. and he loves to fill in teh blanks in stories. so i say This is _____ (george) and he says: puppy or mommy. he was a good little _____ (monkey) and he says puppy. and always very (curious), and he says “puppy.” He thinks it’s teh funniest thing. So instead of correcting him, I just let every answer be puppy. he thinks it’s SO funny. the other day, he was mommy and i was J. he thought it was awesome until i asked if i could have puppy (his toy) and he said no. lol.

    oh, and yesterday he told me he doesn’t like me and that i have a mustache. swell. mommyhood is the best, huh? ;)

  21. LyssaR

    oh my! I am not a mom, but I do a ton of babysitting! I spend long days with lots of different kiddos (thankfully I still get to give them back at the end of the day, most of the time). One particular little munchkin I watch is in this stage and has been for quite some time. It was becoming extremely frustrating to make something and have him so distraught when I actually gave it to him that he would throw it on the ground! So frustrating! So, I came up with an idea (crazy)! I took pictures of everything he eats/likes to eat or asks for on a regular basis (bananas, apples, oatmeal, eggs, cheese, etc). Before I make a meal I ask him what he wants, or I give him choices, depending what is in the house at the time. When he has made up his mind I stick the picture on our board that says “The meal we have chosen to eat is:” Cody now knows that that is the thing he chose, and that is what I am going to serve him. I simply have to tell him to go and look at the meal board to remind him what he chose! It works like a charm! I find charts and reminders extremely helpful for that age, and any age really :)

    I hope you find something that works for you!

  22. Liz

    It does pass. At 2 yrs and 11months I see the glimmer of the boy prior to age 2. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it is still there sometimes, but less so, and will less “disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing” Of course I imagine new things will get difficult.

    Such is life, but I’m happy to swap toddler’s for an afternoon if you need someone else’s to disagree with!

  23. Sarah S

    errr…In my case, with my son, it both passed and didn’t. At 2 I say just get through it, ignore and redirect. When my guy got a little older, I would let him state his case on things usually but there would come a point where I would just issue a strict ‘stop arguing with mommy” and that was that. His new phrase now, is after I tell him something he’ll start with “actually mommy……” and if it’s not a time for discussion or argument, i’ll just cut him off with a “nope. No actually mommy, this is what’s happening”. Sometimes though, they just want to be heard.

  24. Angie

    Oh yeah. That’s all over here too. I just think back to the times when I would think (as he was crying his little heart out as a newborn) “if only he could TELL ME what the problem is”! Oh boy. Now he can tell me, and I hear about it all day long!

    I also have to laugh to myself – and I’m sure you get this too – when aunts, cousins, friends, look at him and say “what a good listener he is!”. He is on his best behavior with others around. He is a good boy – and your kids are too – we just have to get through this phase!

  25. Heidi

    Holy wow! I just wrote this same post in my head the other day as I listened to my six-year-old argue with every.single.thing that I said. He apparently skipped this stage at 2 and is now catching up on all that lost time! I have NO clue what to do either….but sister I will say a prayer for you! And hope that for both of us that this two shall pass.

  26. Kristyn

    I’m sorry to agree with everyone and say that he is just two. My child was ” two” for a years and a half, it was exhausting. I say ignore the things that are obvious, stick to the ones that are dangerous and let him figure out that you actually know what your talking about sometimes, like telling him his food is hot, or don’t stand up now you’ll hit your head. Let him pick up a piece of food that’s a little hot and then next time he will believe you, or when he hits his head reinforce that you told him to be careful. I think that helped with my little guy, he was just so independent, and ” I can do it myself” that it took a few hard lessons, like dropping his ice-cream cone on the floor because heaven forbid he let us help him, before he realized that we might just know a thing or two. Good luck!

  27. Molly @ Little Stories Everywhere

    YES! I hear you.
    This week has been deemed “Whiney Week.” I’m telling you, all day long my barely 2 year old either wants to nurse or watch a show. That’s all. No crafts, no toys, no library, no playground. She wants to “STAY HOME MAMA AND DRINK MILK AND WATCH PETS. OKAY MAMA? SOUND FUN MAMA? OK LET’S GO!” She thinks she’s quite convincing. Too bad we also have a little 7 month old that doesn’t approve of her plan (and neither do I actually).
    There are days like today that after bedtime, I literally collapse on the bed and do not move for a few hours.
    Motherhood is not for the weak.
    Hang in there:).

  28. Deb

    Oh man. I feel your pain. My oldest went through this exact thing at that same age. Then my second did the same. Not there yet with number three, but we’ll see. I don’t know if this is advice, but I finally settled on saying, “You can say that all you want, but it isn’t going to change the truth.” Or maybe, “Saying something isn’t hot doesn’t change reality. It’s still hot.” Then I ignore any rebuttals after that. Even though there are many. That way I’ve asserted the truth but I’ve also refused to be drawn into an argument. And for what it’s worth, with both 1 and 2, it did pass after a while. It was a testing phase. Not that they never contradict now, but it’s not so constant nor so blatant. And they are only 7 and 5, so the phase won’t last forever!
    I really think most of parenting is enduring…

  29. Jess

    I’m currently reading the happiest toddler on the block, it’s a great book on dealing with tantrums and discipline, also how to help stop the back and forth. I also just read a study that said at every 6 month mark after they turn one their brains have a harder time focusing and processing. It’s not just your little one and know it will pass. Mine is almost 3 now and I thing it’s up hill until 3 1/2 which is good because his brother is 18 months and he’s finally taking a stab at it lol… good luck :)

  30. jill

    i usually have had it by 9am. its a battle to use the potty and get dressed in the mornings. then there’s breakfast. and heaven forbid if a favorite cartoon is not on or there happens to be a commercial. the only thing that gets me through each day is redirecting and the occasional bribe for mommy time, and that only happens when baby is sleeping or preoccupied….i know, going for mother of the year with the bribing-but if it works, i’ll keep doing it.

  31. Kaycee

    My kiddo is totally doing this right now too (at 3.5 years old, but she didn’t do it much before now – seems to be a recent and hopefully VERY SHORT stage). It’s so tiring. I swear if she asked for a sucker (her favorite treat) and I said yes she would change her mind and whine that she didn’t WANT a sucker.

    When she insists on something ridiculous (“my hair is pink Mommy!”) I do a lot of non-committal noises. Your hair is pink? “Oooh” Mommy is shorter than you? “Mmmm” and then I move on to the next topic. Since the statement doesn’t get much of a reaction it seems to help her move on. Mostly. :) But I am IN for the shoulder rubs, exhausting for sure.

  32. Lisa Howe

    Totally developmentally appropriate. They are just practicing having control now that they realize they have opinions. Use playful approaches and overacting. It will pass. It’s not defiance. They don’t have the brain development to “manipulate” at this age.


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