Setting basic boundaries helps you align with what you are okay with and what you’re not okay with. Our son is one year of age and we’ve been using gentle early boundaries for several months.
Parents can typically start as soon as their child understands basic phrases, 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 phrase “I’m not okay with that.”
At first, it’s more of a preparatory phase, where I teach the basic meaning of “I’m not okay with that.'” Normal healthy babies are all capable of understanding 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.
2. Show your child what they can do instead.
After you tell your child “I’m not okay with that,” it’s important to show the child what they can do instead. Even if it means physically moving the child away from what they cannot have or do.
If your boundary means, not touching something, then physically remove your child’s hand from the object and tell him “I’m not okay with that.”
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 phrases and actions provides clearer communication for your child to understand.
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.
3. Watch your baby.
Watch your baby closely. It’s important to set boundaries when they are actually being crossed. Correct him after-the-fact and he won’t understand. Watch him and correct him as he stretches your boundary. Continue repeat the same process again and again when he forgets or checks to make sure the boundary is real.
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.
4. Stick with it.
Your boundary will be useless if you say “I’m not okay with that” to something and then do nothing a few minutes later when he repeats the same action. Be careful not to give too many commands and directions at first, but when you do tell him something, always hold your boundary.
5. No need to go to extremes.
Babies have good memories, but they are far from perfect. Expect that teaching boundaries 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.
6. Have age appropriate expectations.
Teaching basic boundaries 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 behaviors you like some of the time is a realistic place to start.
7. 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.