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I have always been a little disturbed by the fact that understanding the word “no” is listed as a milestone in What To Expect The First Year. Especially since they then qualify it with “but not always obey it”.

First of all, the dog trainer in me says:

If he doesn’t obey the word “no”, then he doesn’t understand the word. 

Second of all, doesn’t it seem sad that “no” is the word of choice? Recognizing his name? Not listed as a milestone. Recognizing the word “yes”? Not listed. Recognizing the word “ball” or “dog” or “milk”? Not listed.

Apparently babies are supposed to live in a world of “no.”

Well, Babby was late to that milestone, because up until recently, he almost never heard the word. If he reached for something he shouldn’t have, I might say “no, honey” absentmindedly as I moved it out of reach, but until he could crawl his opportunites for mischief were so limited that I simply had no need for any kind of discipline.

He recognized his name. He could hand me something if I held out my hand for it. But he hadn’t a clue what the word “no” meant.

But he’s learning it now.

With great power comes great responsibility, and with the ability to crawl comes the beginning of responsibility for one’s actions. When Babby developed his own method of locomotion, I began to enact some basic discipline.

Our very first battle of wills happened at the airport on our way home from Nova Scotia. Waiting at the gate, we put Babby down for a crawl. We decided to make the line where carpet turned to tile flooring a boundary, and if Babby approached it we called “no!”, picked him up, and returned him to our feet.

The great escape: Take 3,354

Of course, he would immediately bee-line for the tiles again, and as soon as he hit the line, we’d call “no!”, pick him up, and return him to our feet.

He thought this was a great game. We didn’t mind. For the first time in his life he was discovering the possibility of resisting our wishes, and it was natural for him to try and test that boundary. Let him learn it now that resistance is futile.

Besides, it’s good exercise for everyone, and it sure keeps him busy!

I don’t know how many times he rampaged towards the tiling only to be cheerily told “no!” and returned to square one.

The kid definitely has a mind of his own, and he thought resisting my will to be HILARIOUS.

But in the end, he began to get bored of crossing the same patch of floor again and again and again and again and again. Finally, he reached the end of the carpet, I called “no!” and stood up from my seat, and he paused. You could see the thought whirling in his tiny brain: “Do I really want to get hauled all the way back there AGAIN?”

processing... processing...

He decided that he would rather explore to the right or left. He crawled away, along the edge of the carpet, and I praised him. He sat up again, grinned at me, and continued his explorations unmolested.

Thus ended Babby’s first lesson in “no”, but not the last.

We had a similar battle of wills at the doctor’s office the other day. Now, though, I only have to do it three or four times before he decides to pause at the threshold of my imposed boundary when I call “no!”, and then decide to explore in a different direction.

He’s learning fast.

That’s the “here’s the rule, don’t cross it” kind of no. I say it quite cheerily (in fact, it often comes out “nope!”). When he hears it he often spends some time figuring out the EXACT boundary. Oh, I can’t touch that thing on the shelf? What about this part of it? No? What about the shelf itself? That’s okay?

It’s not so much that he’s disobeying as exploring the limitations, and I am okay with that.

The other kind of “no” he learned all at once. 

That’s the “STOP!” kind of no.

He was playing with the bottom drawer of his dresser, pulling it open and pushing it closed again with great glee. I was sitting in the rocker and watching, and waiting. The moment I had been worried about arrived: instead of pushing back on the knob that he used to pull the drawer open, he placed his hand on top of the drawer to push it closed.

I jumped up from my chair and said quite harshly, “NO!”

He startled, but it didn’t stay his hand, and the drawer closed on his little fingers.

Now, he doesn’t have much strength, so it just closed on them. When I had whisked them out they weren’t bruised or even pinched. But it still upset him enough to make it memorable for him.

I left him with a friend while PH and I went to see Harry Potter, and the friend remarked on our return that he responded quite well to “no!” when he picked up a computer chord.

Yes, he definitely recognizes urgency, and he responds. Of course, he has no self control yet, so he ends up going back to the cord after a while, but he stops when he hears the word. That’s all I can really ask for at this age, hence, Babby proofing.

But I almost feel safe in saying that he knows what “no” means, now.


Hey, boob-lady: LOOK WHAT I'VE GOT!