I recently wrote a post titled, “3 phrases that help our toddler-ness,” about things we’re saying to our 2 year old that seem to be helping with, well, all the behaviors that come along with the
terrible terrific twos. People responded so well, that I decided to write about 3 phrases we say to our 1 year old too. We said them to our oldest when she was 1 and now we’re saying them to our second born. It’s never too early to start setting expectations and training our littles. They understand more than we realize.
1. That’s a No.
I don’t remember where I first read this phrase, but it stuck with me. I do remember that when I first started saying it to Addie, she was about 8 or 9 months old, and I felt awkward saying the whole sentence, “that’s a no” instead of just “no.” As we got used to it, we liked it better than ‘no,’ because it’s more specific. It first comes in handy when your newly crawling almost-one-year-old starts exploring. We’re not big into baby proofing, so a lot of things are just off limits. (I’m not really against it, we just never got around to it. The longest we’ve lived in a house with our kids is 1 year, and that’s this one, and we haven’t done it yet. Pretty sure it will never happen.)
The laptop charger cord was the first thing both our kids went for. It’s just so dangly and enticing. Ben and I both have laptops that we leave in various places around the house. Being home with them all day, I need/ want to be able to leave it out and know they’re not going to a.) pull it on top of themselves b.) break the expensive computer c.) break the expensive charger d.) somehow get electrocuted from the plug. Enter – “That’s a no.”
This phrase probably needs no explanation, but, we’re pretty deliberate with how we teach this, so, in the spirit of oversharing, I thought I’d spell it all out. Skip this paragraph if you don’t care about the deets or don’t have a 1 year old 😉 Baby crawls towards charger. As soon as she touches it or reaches for it, I clap loudly (to get her attention/ break her focus) and say firmly “Emma, that’s a no” while pointing to the forbidden
fruit item. I often repeat again with the item inserted, “The charger is a no.” Then I bring her away from it and distract her with something else. As I’m first introducing this phrase, I would let her go for it a few times so I could instill ‘that’s a no’ and really get them to hear it a lot. When baby first starts crawling, you are just teaching him or her what this phrase means and how to listen to that firm mommy or daddy tone in your voice. You don’t have to apply ‘that’s a no’ to every single off-limits thing right away. We kind of informally picked cords as the first thing we taught ‘that’s a no’ with because cords are everywhere, at our house and other people’s houses, and they’re semi-dangerous. With other things we didn’t want them playing with, we’d just move them out of reach, or say “that’s a no” one time and then move them away or whatever. It’s so exhausting to try to monitor every single off limits thing at this age, so we focused on one thing (cords) to teach this concept of listening and obeying the phrase “that’s a no.”
Emma, so far, has been much more persistent than Addie was at trying things we’ve told her are “a no.” I can’t really remember much from Addie at 9-12 months (because we had just moved to Cambridge and found out we were preggo with #2). BUT, I do remember she wasn’t nearly as curious as Emma is. Addie didn’t open drawers or doors or look behind things. She just followed me around and sat there with a basket of toys for the longest time.
Emma, who has been crawling since 5 months, (ahh!) loves to sneak off to the bathroom and dump everything out of all the drawers. She loves opening cabinets.
dumping Addie’s carefully poured water all over the floor in one fowl swoop
Anyway, whatever you do to enforce “that’s a no” is up to you. However you go about teaching this, the point is to teach your child to respond to you and make sure they know you’re not playing a game. If you joke with your 10 month old about what is a “no” and you have to chase them as they run toward the laptop charger or outlet or fan or whatever because they think it’s a fun game, and everyone is smiling and giggling as you say “no no little sugar plum…” and just remove the off limit item from their reach, then it will be EXTREMELY hard to undo that one year later when you say “no” as they try to run off in a parking lot. And it’s MUCH less funny.
I know we could move the laptop. But we want them to begin the process of learning to obey before we’re in a parking lot. The laptop is a great example because it’s not life or death. For example, we don’t mess around with teaching “no” about our steep and dangerous basement stairs; we just keep the door closed. And we don’t expect our crawling 9 month old to stay next to us in the parking lot. We just hold her.
#2 Yes Mommy.
In conjunction with teaching ‘that’s a no,’ we also teach ‘yes mommy.’ Sometime around 8-12 months, your little one starts very cutely and deliberately nodding their head yes. It’s harder for them physically than shaking their head no. Once baby can nod, I say “yes” a lot and nod with them so that they learn the nod means yes. It doesn’t take long for baby to associate the head nod with “yes.” So then we add that to the whole ‘that’s a no’ situation. We’ll say, “that’s a no… say yes mommy” and then nod with baby. The idea is that they nod to symbolize they understand that you are telling them something. This way, if they go for the cord or outlet, you know they’re deliberately testing you because they acknowledged they heard you. At first, it’s all just instilling the habit. The true understanding is a little bit later. Emma is almost 13 months and nods yes almost every time. [That doesn’t mean she obeys perfectly – it’s just our way of teaching her to respond when we tell her something. This way, when she turns 2 and we’re going on a walk, I can say, “you need to stay on the sidewalk and not go into the street” and she says “ok mom” and I know she gets it. As Addie has gotten older, the “yes mommy” went from a head nod to words. Then sometime around 2, she developed the ability to sometimes say it thru gritted teeth. Haha! But once the child has acknowledged they hear you and understand you, it’s easier to identify and distinguish between when they’re going against what you’ve told them, and when they just don’t know any better.]
#3 – Listen and Obey
This is another one that felt awkward at first. I don’t know if the word obey is old fashioned or feels culturally unacceptable or what, but I find myself slightly self-conscious using it in front of people. Anyway, 2 years and 2 kids later, I’m basically over that. “Listen and obey” rolls off my tongue a zillion times a day. I can’t remember where I first heard this one either, but I’ve heard a lot of mommy friends use it. The idea behind “listen AND OBEY” (as opposed to “listen”) is that your child can listen and choose not to obey. Going back to our parking lot example, if your tiny dictator 2 year old listens to you and hears you say “hold my hand please,” but disobeys by running the opposite direction, well, that could end badly. So, the key is listen and obey.
“Listen and obey” is easiest to teach when you can help them obey. For example, cleaning up toys before bed. You can say “it’s clean up time, put the toys in the basket,” and then you basically put all the toys away and guide the 12 month old’s hands to drop the toy they’re holding in the basket and say “good listening and obeying mommy. clean up time! great job!” and in this way, you are teaching the concept of ‘listen and obey’ as a positive thing. I’m all about the positive!!
We’ve been working on this with Emma recently. She’s almost 13 months now, and totally understands that we don’t want her to throw her cup on to the floor when she’s done drinking. We want her to put it back on the table. Because that’s where dishes go while you eat. [Side note soap box: I think our culture gives a bad rap to the type of parents who tell their one year olds to not throw their cups on the floor. We want to be all – do what feels good – and – it’s so cute they don’t know any better. But the thing is, people don’t throw their cups on the floor when they’re done drinking. So if your 1 year old can understand this, why encourage them to throw their cup on the floor by laughing and excusing it for a year, and then when they turn 2 and you get tired of it, and expect them to put it on the table? Stepping off side note soap box.]
Anyway. During a meal, if I see her pick up her cup to drink, I’ll say, “Emma, when you’re done, put your cup back on the table, don’t drop it on the floor.” And if she does, I’ll say, “Good listening and obeying, Emma!! Yes, your cup goes on the table.” Addie usually gets excited too and claps and says “yay Emma!” Haha! 🙂
As your one year old gets more words, he or she will be able to say the word ‘obey.’ I can’t remember when it started with Addie, but at some point we would say “you need to listen and _____,” and she would fill in the blank “obey.” It’s kind of synonymous with a ‘yes mommy.’ Some sort of acknowledgement of their understanding. And I still use it all the time with my 2 1/2 year old. Often as a reminder now. When I can see her teetering on the edge of disobedience, I just quietly remind her “listen and….” and much of the time, she’ll say “obey” and comply. (Much, not all.)
This is not 3 phrases to create perfectly behaved toddlers.
Hear me on this, or should I say “listen and obey.”
Our kids aren’t perfect.
Emma still drops her cup a lot. Less than 2 months ago, but she still does it.
Addie sometimes unplugs my laptop or opens my makeup and puts it on, even though she knows better. Sometimes she’ll yell “no” as she runs to timeout, a final act of defiance.
Isn’t that how grownups are too though? We learn to be increasingly better at attitudes and behaviors but not perfect. I am not perfectly patient with my kids, but I’m more patient than I was a year ago. I do not put others first 100% of the time, but I’m less selfish than I was 4 years ago.
Grace. Let’s give our kids grace, whether they’re 1, 7, or 29.
Consistency, explanation, discipline, love, patience and grace.
So much grace.
nosy curious nosy & want to know if anyone already uses any of these phrases with their kids… or are you going to try them? or do you have others that your kids respond well to? This raising small children thing is not for the faint of heart. They are persistent and stubborn little firecrackers – full of energy and so so needy. Let’s come along side each other and help a momma (or pops) out!