Setting basic boundaries and teaching early obedience are important to our family. Our son is one year of age and we’ve been using gentle early obedience techniques for several months.
Parents can typically start as soon as their child understands the word no, typically well before a year. The ideal time to start may be when your child begins to crawl and he is able to reach off limit items. Child-rearing is not only easier on you, when begun early, but on your child as well.
There are several simple ways for teaching early obedience to babies and toddlers.
Simple, practical, and gentle—these methods can help lay the foundation for future obedience in your child. Starting from as early as 6 months, you can begin this process and you will be glad you did.
1. Teach the word ‘No’
At first, it’s more of a preparatory phase, where I teach the basic meaning of “no.’” Normal healthy babies are all capable of understanding “no” by the time they can crawl, and often well before that. For a little while, moving them away from temptations or distract them to avoid trouble is enough. Eventually though, we got more serious about teaching our son to obey, and we used the word ‘no’ to do it.
Remote controls, cell phones, electrical cords, etc., are just a few examples of items that were “no” to our son. After using the word “no,” he often protested. We reminded him the item was “no” and moved him to another area, such as the toy box.
2. Show your child how to obey.
After you tell your child no, it’s important to teach them how to obey you, even if it means physically moving the child away from what they cannot have or do. If obedience means, not touching something, then physically remove your child’s hand from the object and tell him no. No need to explain why the child cannot have a particular object or do a certain action, as small children do not yet understand logic or reasoning. Using simple commands and actions provides clearer communication for your child to understand.
3. Show your child what you’d like them to do instead.
It’s very appropriate to offer your child an activity or object he may have instead. Helping your child get starting with a new activity is good. Or creating a new or fun opportunity for them is also very helpful to encourage them to remain obedient and avoid wrong doing.
4. Keep some off limit items within reach of your child.
After child-proofing your house to protect your child’s safety, it is worthwhile to keep a few ‘no touch’ items within your baby’s reach. It’s important for young children to learn they cannot have ultimate freedom within the house and that some things are simply off limits. Use these ‘no touch’ items as opportunities to teach your child no and make them obey.
In addition to electrical cords, cell phones, and remotes, we also had a few nick-knacks around the house that our son was not allowed to touch. Just one or two is enough in my opinion. We used these items to help him understand that he wasn’t allowed to have complete freedom in the house. We want him to learn some form of self-control even though he is still young.
5. Watch your baby.
Watch your baby closely. It’s important to provide obedience training while is actually being disobedient. Correct him after-the-fact and he won’t understand. Watch him and correct him as he disobeys. Continue repeat the same process again and again when he forgets or tests you.
There are, of course, times when I’m cooking or doing chores that I can’t watch my son as closely as I’d like. During those times, I try to keep him in an area of our home that doesn’t have off limit items. I feel like this really helped keep him from “no touch” items when I wasn’t able to watch as close as usual.
6. Stick with it.
Your training will be useless if you say “no” to something and then do nothing a few minutes later when he repeats the same offense. Be careful not to give too many commands and directions at first, but when you do tell him something, always make certain he obeys.
7. No need to go to extremes.
Babies have good memories, but they are far from perfect. Expect that teaching obedience from an early age often involves a lot of repetition, as it takes time for babies and toddlers to learn new skills. Keep trying, but remember to be gentle in your methods. All young children are trying to sort out the world and frequently test boundaries to learn and re-learn right and wrong. Keep it basic and simple in the beginning.
8. Have age appropriate expectations.
Teaching basic obedience to a young child shouldn’t be an all-day affair and it shouldn’t feel like baby boot camp. Based on your child’s individual development, know what your child is capable of and what he isn’t. Expecting basic obedience some of the time is a realistic place to start.
If I felt like I was having to say “no” too often, we would go outside and play or move to an area of the house that didn’t have “no touch” items. This provided us both a great opportunity just to be intentional with play and not worry about obedience and boundaries.
9. Be the adult you’d like your children to be.
As parents, it’s easy to see ourselves inside our children. They came from us, literally. We are their guide, their protectors, their keepers. It’s important to set an example for our children, always remembering that the number one place our children will learn anything is from us. We all have the power to instill obedience in our children, and sometimes the most basic, common-sense step is behaving well ourselves.