"NO" and the 6-month-old
Yes - Age SIx Months is When to Start
You have your wonderful blessing. Your baby. You want to do right by him or her, providing a life full of good things, but not spoiling your child. Perhaps in your hopes and dreams, you picture a safe, loving home full of books and comforts with a grateful, helpful, and respectful child. Happily, there are things you can do to help the dream come true. One of them is teach your little darling the meaning of "NO" early in life.
Why? First, Because Life has "No's"
Obviously, the life that we adults live in is full of roadblocks, hurdles, and challenges. We have figured out that we do not get everything we want and, hopefully, it hasn't ruined life for anyone. This is the life that you are preparing your baby to thrive in. And, a child's life has roadblocks, too. Wanna eat those wild mushroom-ish looking plants in the back yard? I don't think so. Wanna lick that electrical outlet? Nope. Dig in the flowerpot? Uhn-uh. Play in the dirty litter box? Sorry, Charlie. Touch the computer? No way.
But, my baby is six months old, you might reply. She isn't even crawling yet. I quite agree. But she is gaining control over her muscles and her intentions. She is probably sitting and holding objects. Often during nursing, a little bite may have been tried. So, she is beginning to have the ability to do or not do actions. The actions which get the good stuff, such as food, physical comfort, and approval from her family, will increase in frequency. The actions that get bad stuff, like pain, fright, or disapproval, should decrease. As a loving parent, one of the calm ways to show disapproval is with the word "no."
The "no" concept is part of life, just as hunger and the need to have companions are. It is just one of the parts, plain and simple. And the earlier it is taught as a matter-of-fact proposition, the easier and sooner it can be learned. Then, when your baby does start crawling (watch out - boy, can they move fast!) and walking and touching - you have a head start in keeping her safe and creating respect for rules.
This is not to say that your infant will listen and obey at all times. Ha ha! If only life was THAT simple! But, you will be started on the right path.
How to Do It without Meanness
You may be thinking, "I don't want to be remembered as 'The Enforcer" or that the all I did was shriek 'no' and 'don't'." Well, first of all, you will be the enforcer. That is the job God gave you when blessing you with a child. You have been trusted to guide your baby to become a good adult. However, this does not mean you must be nasty or mean.
The word "no" can be said calmly and firmly. But once you have decided upon a behavior which is not allowed, you MUST say "no" every single time your child tries it. Also, you may need to block her hands or pick her up and move her to stop the behavior while you are saying "no." In the beginning, be prepared to say and do this twenty times in a row.
When my first-born started crawling, we had decided that he was not permitted to touch our television, which was set in a cabinet low enough for him to reach easily. Of course, he found it quite attractive and worthy of being explored. We would say "no" and race over to pick him up and carry him ten feet away. But you get to the point where you are just plain tired after doing this ten or fifteen times in a row. (You're exhausted even before this starts.) But, I am thankful that at that moment I had one of those rare awakenings where wisdom knocks at your brain and you recognize it as good stuff and let it in. I thought to myself, "This is so HARD going to get him and moving him over and over and over!" Then I thought, "It is SO hard doing this, but it would be even harder living with a spoiled, disobedient, disrespectful kid." That gave me the last little burst of energy to keep it up until he realized that "no" meant "no," and he stopped trying to touch the set.
As your child gets older and more mobile, there is another good way to take the "meanie-ness" away from all the "no's" you will be saying. Add a "yes." Instruct your child that "A is a no, but B is a yes." For example, coloring on the wall is a no, but coloring on the paper is a yes. Or, touching the strange doggie is a no, but looking at it is a yes. How about, throwing your cup on the floor is a no, but putting it on the table is a yes. Do you catch the drift?
Why? Second, To Keep Your Toddler Safe and Teach Respect
Occasions requiring limits will arise at age six-months, so I feel the discussion can end there. But for those who would like more convincing, I offer this. If you, as the parent, have been practicing this sort of instruction and guidance since your baby was six months old, it will be second nature (for all of you) by the time your child is walking. When your child is walking, she most likely will be walking at places outside the home: relatives' houses, daycare, stores, and such. All these places have rules to be followed or items which would not be safe for a toddler or preschooler to handle. Understanding the "no" direction will keep your child safer. It will also make you and your little one more welcome to be there.
I once had a disconcerting experience with a young visitor and his family at Christmastime. The child was one year old and walking well. When he saw our Christmas tree, decorated to the hilt, he beelined for it. I stepped in between him and the tree, looked him in the eye, and said "no." His parents said, "Oh, he doesn't know what that means." WHAT!?! If I had been a denture-wearer, my teeth would have been on the floor! Walking and not knowing the meaning of the word "no?" Perhaps you have heard the saying that there are no bad dogs, just bad dog owners. Well, this poor kid was in the same boat. He can't help it if no one taught him. What a disservice to that child. You can only imagine what the rest of the visit must have been like.
Therefore, take comfort and be assured that teaching your wee babe about life's "yes's" and "no's" is the right thing to do. And the earlier, the better for all.
Copyright text and indicated photos 2008 Maren E. Morgan