“NO” and “YES”: How to Teach 2 of the Most Powerful Words to Your Toddler(s)

When your toddler begins answering yes/no questions (accurately) sometime between 19-24 months of age it’s like the floodgates of communication open. Especially so if you aren’t getting much other verbal communication from them up until this point. These 2 small words hold much power for your toddler, they finally have a “voice” (or a head nod) that helps them express themselves.  In most any situation a yes/no question can be asked to figure out what your child wants/or what they are upset about to squash the inevitable tantrum. So how can you get your child to understand and express “yes” and “no” sooner? Here’s a few tips I’ve gathered along the way as an SLP and mommy:


Read books that prompt your child to answer “yes” or “no”.

Some of my favorite baby/toddler books are series by Karen Katz, Leslie Patricelli and Usborne Touchy-Feely Books. These books are interesting, interactive and fun for young readers. And you can heighten their interest in the book by over-exaggerating your yes/no response and prompting them to imitate you.



Ask silly yes/no questions for your child to answer.

Grab some real objects, a stuffed bear, a wooden spoon, a toothbrush and begin asking your child if the object is what it is. For example to work on “yes” you would hold up the wooden spoon and ask, “Is this a wooden spoon?” Or to work on answering “no” hold up the wooden spoon and ask, “Is this a ball?” And let the fun and silliness ensue!!


Model saying “yes” and “no” and nodding your head.

If you child isn’t ready to say the words “yes” and “no” yet, chances are they still understand what you are asking. So you may need to model saying the word and nodding your head for them to imitate. Sometimes physical prompts are needed to help with shaking their head “no” and“yes.”  And you typically will get a whole body shake for a head nod as it is difficult at this age to move the head independently from the rest of the body. Enjoy it and video it…it’s so cute!


Lastly answering yes/no questions is one of the many developmental milestones we highlight in 1-2-3 Just Play With Me. Here is what we have to say about toddlers who ALWAYS answer “no”:


“Your child may answer “no” to all yes/no questions, even when he really means “yes.” Don’t worry. This is very typical. To help your child understand the difference and respond appropriately, encourage him to shake his head and repeat “yes” when you know the answer is “yes.”


Childhood milestones are a MIRACLE. Answering yes/no questions is just one of those miraculous milestones. Nicole and I enjoy watching this miracle occur in our own children and our therapy “kids”. 1-2-3 Just Play With Me can help you appreciate the miracle of your child by helping you know what to expect next in each stage of development and provide you with ways to help your child grow, learn and PLAY!

2 replies
  1. Shirley
    Shirley says:

    My grandson just turned two an we are trying to teach him to learn new words he is very smart but he is not saying yes he shakes his head no but does not say the word he understands but is not saying the words

  2. Syddie's Mom
    Syddie's Mom says:

    This is so informative, so glad to read this! My daughter is almost 18 months. She has been nodding yes to all our questions. She rarely shakes for no. She nods when I ask her if she wants something. She sometimes nods as soon as I start asking a question. She’ll also hand me something she needs help with and nod. I’m a bit worried she doesn’t get the concept but she follows other commands and points to get her needs across. She’s not yet talking either. Is this something we should work on with ST or is it still pretty common at her age to nod for everything? Thx!


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