Our 4th child just turned one, and I can say for sure: it’s never too early to start setting expectations and training your little ones. They understand WAY more than we realize. It might seem silly but here’s how to tell your 1 year old “no!”
Phrase #1: That’s a No.
This simple phrase is literally the biggest secret to teaching your 1 year old “no.” Using “that’s a no,” instead of just “no” is really effective!
I don’t remember where I first heard this phrase, but it stuck with me. I do remember that when I first started saying it to our oldest. She was about 8 or 9 months old, and I felt kind of 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 against baby proofing, we just never got around to it.)
Cords are the first thing all our kids have gone for. They’re just so dangly and enticing. Especially laptop cords! My husband 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 my computer 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.”
Specifically how to teach your 1 year old no with this phrase
This might not need 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.
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
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.
(Just don’t make it a game where you’re chasing them toward the charger for fun! It’s hard not to turn it into a game because they’re so dang cute. More about that in a minute…)
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.”
It varies kid to kid
Our firstborn wasn’t very “curious” at the 9-12 month age. Granted, when she was 9-12 months, we had just moved to Cambridge and found out we were preggo with our surprise second baby. So life was a bit of a blur.
But, I do remember that our first baby didn’t really open all the drawers or doors or look behind things. She just followed me around and sat there with a basket of toys for the longest time. I think she was a total mama’s girl, and it didn’t really occur to her.
All of our other kids have opened all the doors, dumped things out of cabinets and drawers and baskets, climbed into the fridge, etc… probably because they have more older siblings to observe?
Phrase 2. shake shake shake
Another thing we noticed about the word “no” is that you can teach your baby “no” about the same time they start to shake their head back and forth (like you shake your head, “no.”)
The problem with this is, the head shake is super cute! And they love to play the shake-your-head game.
BUT if you associate the shake-your-head game with the word, “no,” then when you say, “that’s a no,” they’ll cutely shake their head no! Like it’s a game. 🙂
What we’ve done to counteract this is use the phrase SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE for the head shaking game and stick to “that’s a no” (in a firm voice) for teaching no.
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 when you use “that’s a no.”
But joking is fun!
Yes! We joke with our kids all the time! Just not at 10 months old, right when they’re first learning what “no” means.
Joking about “no,” is when you’re chasing them as they crawl toward the laptop charger or outlet or fan or whatever because everyone is smiling and giggling as you say “no no little sugar plum…”
This makes it really hard to make your “no” mean NO for real down the line.
We do the fun crawling chasing game all the time still – just not surrounding “no”/ teaching off limits.
We also do joke about “no” as the kids get older!
Even by 1.5-2 years old, we can tease the kids, “Don’t have any fun at Grandma’s house while we’re gone!!” And they’ll laugh and respond, “We will! we will!”
Or we’ll say, “Don’t you dare eat your veggies!!” And they’ll laugh and say, “I’m going to!!” (How’s that for awesome parental manipulation? haha!)
The point is… once the boundaries are clear, and they can tell what “no” means and that you are in charge and you mean it when you say, “no,” then you can joke freely.
BUT when you actually want to teach them, “no,” don’t mix up the word with any sort of game! It’ll make it all easier 🙂
couldn’t you move the cords?
Yes… 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 situation for teaching “no” 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.
And we do move some things because it’s not worth dealing with every single little thing being off limits. For example, I have nothing on any end tables during the stage of a 1 year old learning to pull up because they just pull everything off the end tables and throw it all onto the floor. And I don’t want to be saying, “that’s a no” all day long) 🙂
Phrase #3: 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.”
Once they understand it means yes, we add the head nod/ “yes” to the whole ‘that’s a no’ situation.
I’ll say, “that’s a no… no cords. Say yes mommy.” Then I’ll nod with baby and say “yes mommy,” (as if the baby is responding.)
The idea is that they nod to symbolize they understand that you are telling them something. Introducing “yes mommy” super early on will pay off BIG TIME in the “terrific 2s.” haha!
The baby may not actually nod at the right time for a long time… that’s okay! Just do it anyway. They’ll catch on.
At first, it’s all just instilling the habit. The true understanding comes a bit later.
Our second daughter was around 13 months when she started nodding almost every time we said, “Say yes mommy.”
That doesn’t mean she obeyed perfectly… obviously! It’s just our way of instilling the habit of her responding 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.
Around 1.5-2 years old, the “yes mommy” will likely go from a head nod to words. It was later for my 3rd son…. all his words came a bit later than the first two girls 🙂
Sometime around 2, those little
stinkers blessings develop the ability to even say it thru gritted teeth. Haha!
But once the child has built the habit of acknowledging when 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.
Phrase #4: 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, 6 years and 4 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 people use it.
The idea behind “listen AND OBEY” (as opposed to just “listen”) is that your child can listen and choose not to obey. Going back to our parking lot example, if your tiny 2 year old dictator listens to you and hears you say “hold my hand please,” but disobeys by running the opposite direction, well, that could end badly. So, obedience is a key part of the “listen and obey.”
How to teach “listen and obey” to a 1 year old
“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.
While helping them do all the work you 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!!
When I first wrote this post (it’s since been updated), we were working on “listen and obey” with our 13 month old. By that age, she totally understood that we didn’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.
(For the record – I have since lost the capacity to teach this to my 3rd and 4th children at the age of 1… LOL. There are WAY too many things going on during a mealtime with 4 kids under the age of 6 to teach the 1 year old not to throw their cup. He can learn it when he’s 2. BUT… if you have 1 or 2 kids and are not otherwise preoccupied, they can totally learn it!!)
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. Say yes mommy.” She usually nods. Then if she obeys that 5 seconds later, I’ll say, “Good listening and obeying, Emma!! Yes, your cup goes on the table.”
The older child 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 each kid, but at some point we would say “you need to listen and _____,” and each child would fill in the blank “obey.”
It’s kind of synonymous with a ‘yes mommy.’ Some sort of acknowledgement of their understanding.
I still use it all the time with my big 3 at ages 2.5, 4.5, and 6! Often more of a reminder. When I can see one of them teetering on the edge of disobedience, I just quietly remind her/him, “Listen and….” and much of the time, they’ll say “obey” and comply. (Much, not all.)
This is not 3 phrases to create perfectly behaved toddlers.
Hear me on this, friends. (Or should I say “listen and obey.”) 🙂
Our kids aren’t perfect. Perfection is not the goal. Eventually, there will be lots of opportunities to preach the gospel to your kids in their moments of sin. To show them their behavior reveals their heart and that
what who they really need is Jesus. There will be many opportunities for you to apologize and show them Mommy needs Jesus too.
But when they’re 1, focus on teaching your 1 year old to obey.
My 13 month old still drops her cup a lot at the table. Less than 2 months ago, but she still does it.
The two year old 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… one final act of defiance.
Isn’t that how grownups are too, though? God graciously enables us to get increasingly better at attitudes and behaviors… but we’re never 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 in my parenting than I was 4 years ago. (Most of the time…)
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? Do you have other phrases 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!
p.s. Join my parent-led home challenge and we can connect over email!!