Setting Limits for Your Baby
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Another reason to avoid explicitly punishing your baby is that his misbehavior, strictly speaking, is seldom really misbehavior. Although throwing food might warrant punishment in an older child, for example, an infant cannot help doing it. A preschooler knows what will happen when he drops or throws mashed potatoes on the floor; an infant has to do it to find out.
Similarly, most actions that your infant takes that might deserve punishment later are things that he cannot help doing now. Your baby is becoming increasingly curious. He wants to explore his world and experiment with the objects in it. That's how he learns about the world.
If your baby bites you or pulls your hair, he doesn't intend to hurt you. He does it because he wants to discover more about you, just as he explores the other objects in his world. How does he find out about a new toy? He grabs it, pulls it, pokes it, scratches it, bangs it, kicks it, and bites it. When he does this to another person, don't assume the worst. He wasn't being mean-spirited. He was just being a baby. And punishing a baby just because he behaves like a baby isn't fair.
"No!": Don't Overuse It
Once your baby has begun to crawl, she needs the opportunity to explore her environment. Exploring and acquiring knowledge adds to her growing independence and confidence. But to make the most of these adventures, she needs the freedom to roam (within limits, of course) wherever her interests take her. She needs to be able to make discoveries and experiment with the objects in her world on her own.
Without intending to do so, you can easily douse the flame of your baby's passion for exploration and discovery. All you need to do is say "No!" 20 or 30 times a day. Saying "No!" discourages your child from exploring her environment, or at least parts of it.
The more often you use the word "No!", the less effective it becomes. Your baby will quickly tire of hearing that word all the time, and it will lose its shock value. Your child may end up ignoring your repeated prohibitions.
Beware of turning "No!" into a game, which it can easily become if you overuse the word. If your baby starts to challenge your authority, you may admire her spunk, but try not to let her see your admiration. Your baby needs to know that this is serious business, that you only say, "No!" when you mean it. For all of these reasons, try to use "No!" only for the most serious offenses--those that represent an immediate danger to your baby or to others (and perhaps to your property as well).
Constantly saying "No!" not only discourages your infant from exploring her world and gradually strips the word of its effectiveness, it may also damage your baby's sense of security, acceptance, and self-confidence. To your baby, displeasing you feels dangerous. Your baby naturally equates any expression of disapproval on your part with rejection. This sense of rejection, in turn, heightens any abandonment fears she already has.
So do whatever you can to cut down on the number of times you say "No!" to your baby. Whenever you do say it, make sure to follow up your expression of disapproval with expressions of warmth and affection. Comfort your child, who may be devastated at the thought of having done something wrong (although she may not quite understand what she did). Above all, emphasize that even when you get angry at her, even when you don't like what she's doing, you still love her.
Infants, thoroughly anchored in the present moment, often have a hard time realizing that someone can shout at them and still love them. Your baby does not yet know this fact through either instinct or experience. Because she cannot separate a person from his or her behavior, you have to show her how to do it.
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby © 1997 by Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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