During a season of curiosity and constant motion, it is so important to learn how to teach your baby to obey commands. This is both for their safety and your sanity!
There are only a few necessary words to introduce to your baby the first year of his/her life. As long as you smile, play, read and dance…they will be happy!
But at some point in every child’s life, they MUST learn the word “no”. And since studies (and parent’s testimonies) have proven that most of a child’s personality and responses are formed by age two to three years old, the sooner they learn to respond to this important word, the better!
A Child’s Mind
First off, a lot of parents have noticed that, almost from birth, children begin testing limits…ALL limits. It is not done maliciously or to irritate, but it is all part of the exploring mind that God gave them so they can learn about the world around them.
So as they explore and test, they will sometimes naturally run across consequences : when they poke themselves in the eye – it hurts. But sometimes we need to “help” those consequences occur so they can learn things for their own safety or for the sake of learning obedience/respect.
For instance, when my daughter was 11 months old, we had a space heater in her room that gets hot to the touch when it is on. If I let her learn consequences naturally, it will take her burning her hand a couple times in order to learn to not touch the heater. But because I started training her to respond to the word “no” a couple months before , we were able to avoid that unnecessary pain.
The biggest response I’ve gotten since I began training her is, “a nine-month old CAN’T be trained!” But as I mentioned earlier, they are naturally being trained from the moment they exit the womb.
If a baby pokes their eye, it causes them pain. After a few pokes, they begin to realize that the poking seems to cause the pain and they stop. They were just trained to not poke their eye.
In the same way, if my daughter tries to take my glasses off my face and feels a little sting every time, she will eventually decide it isn’t worth it and stop. She was just trained to not grab my glasses.
The Two-Step System
I believe that the SOONER you can begin training, the less disciplining will be needed. So start from BIRTH! Now obviously, I’m not talking about giving your one-month old a spanking…no, the first step in training is conditioning.
Step #1 – Conditioning
From the time our first, Heidi, was born, we decided what commands we wanted her to start learning – no, come to mommy/daddy, go to sleep, eat your food, etc. And long before she was able to respond to commands, I began conditioning her to know their meanings.
EVERY time I picked her up I said, “Come to Mommy!” When I put her into her crib I said, “Go to sleep, sweetie!” Each time I began feeding her I said, “It’s time to eat!” We are also careful to only use her specific “training phrases” when we are willing to enforce a response so that they don’t get confusing, overused and lose their meaning.
For the first six months of her life, that is what training looked like. And I began to see that she comprehended the phrases. For instance, I would approach her saying, “Come to Mommy!” and she would arch her back and get ready to be picked up.
But soon after that, we began to notice “THE SIGNS”. She might decide to fight a command or exert her own will or whine when she didn’t get her way. That is when we knew it was time for the next step.
Step #2 – Discipline
The specifics can vary for every family, but we decided to get a couple wooden paint stirrers which we now refer to as the “I love you sticks” as a reminder to us and Heidi that we are only using them because we love her!
Once you have chosen the tool you will use, set up some training scenarios. There was a certain electric cord in the nursery that she tended to go to, so was started there. I placed her on the floor near it and watched, with paint stirrer in hand.
(Now remember, by this point I had been conditioning her from birth and she knew the meaning and how to respond to the word “no”. But as her willpower grew, she needed more motivation to listen to the word.)
After a few seconds, her little hand began to reach for the cord. In a calm but authoritative tone I said, “No.” She looked back at me but then kept going. I immediately gave her leg a little swat with the stirrer and said, “No” again at the same time. After a couple more times, she decided it wasn’t worth it and looked to something else to do.
As clarification – a swat is enough for a little sting but not enough to leave any mark or bring tears. If she does cry, it is out of frustration because really wants to touch/do what I’m not allowing. Also, if your child doesn’t seem to be making the connection, you might try pulling their hand away from the item as you swat and say, “No”; just until they comprehend.
The tool/training scenario/word isn’t the most important part though. The only way for this training to stick it CONSISTANCY! Which means EVERY time your baby is roaming, have your “swatter” nearby and be ready to respond with love.
By the time she was 11 months old, I could be sitting across a room, say “Heidi. No.”, and 90% of the time she would turn away from whatever she is doing and find something else to do. I still kept my swatter nearby but rarely had to use it.
With my two boys, I have had similar results. I say similar because they have definitely learned obedience but with different personalities the timeline can vary. Every child is different and that is ok!
These results excite me for more reasons than the fact that it makes my life easier. It is exciting because it also increases my children’s safety, protects the breakables in our house, and most importantly it teaches them to respect and obey authority.
God’s Word says, “Spare the rod, spoil the child”. Also, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he gets old he will not depart from it.” If my children didn’t learn to respect our authority, how can they learn to respect God’s authority. And the consequences of disobeying God are a lot tougher to handle than a little sting on the leg!
Disciplining isn’t the most enjoyable part of parenting. But it is so worth it to hold on to your child’s heart and mold it to follow Christ!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this difficult topic!