Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Learning the Meaning of "No"


 We all know that discipline is a crucial part of parenting. A major decision we all face is when and how to start implementing it. Children start understanding a lot earlier then many would think. Before the first year, they can usually understand a handful of words. They first learn words that are easy to associate with things they experience daily such as “bottle,” “more,” “ball,” etc. Learning the meaning of intangible things such as “No” can be much harder and take longer.

Once your child begins to become mobile, understanding that “no” means “no” becomes ever more important. If you have a toddler, the following example may sound all too familiar. You watch your little one head toward something and then stop, turn around, and look at you. You then say, “No,” he looks at you, smiles, and goes after it anyway. It is important to understand that when he does this, he is not being naughty; he just hasn’t learned what “No,” means.  

Now the question arises, how do you teach your baby what “No,” means?

First: Try and keep the “no’s” to a minimum. This means you need to decide what things really matter and what things don’t. Do all you can to make your home as toddler friendly as possible, which will also eliminate many of the “no’s.” This is an important step, otherwise you and your toddler will feel like the only words ever coming out of your mouth are “no,” “no,” and “no.”

Second: Be patient and consistent. It will take a while for your child to learn that “no” means “no.” They will test you and make sure that you really mean what you say. Be consistent with the things you have chosen to be definite “no’s,”—this will help your baby not get confused. If you give up and let them play with it just once, it will confuse them and the meaning of “no” will still be unclear.

Third: Make sure your non-verbal language matches what you are saying. This means that you might have to go to the child and physically remove them from the situation. Don’t say “no,” and then smile or laugh because it is funny—this sends mixed signals. Again, be tough and consistent.

Fourth: Distract them by giving them another toy. Tell them something like this: “No, you can’t play with this, but look, here is your favorite book.” Sometimes this will work great and other times not so great. Again, the most important thing you can do is be patient and consistent.

Learning the meaning of “No,” is an important step and sets the foundation for good discipline. The American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us that “The family instructs children and gives guidance about personal values and social behavior. It instills discipline and helps them learn and internalize codes of conduct that will serve them for the rest of their lives. It also helps them develop positive interpersonal relationships, and it provides an environment that encourages learning both in the home and at school.”

How did you teach your baby what “No” means?

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