22 answers

How to Teach a 14 Month Old the Meaning of "No".

My (can't say enough sweet things about him)14 month old needs to know no means no. Lately he has been finding out he can do new things- and some of the world that he is intent on exploring is totally unsafe. I say no, and it means nothing. I say it mean. I say it in a low tone of voice. I get down to his level and look him in the eyes. I jerk him away from what he is doing to surprise him (scare). I distract him with something else. I remove him from the situation. I have tried it all. However my little one will do it anyway. For instance today while I was vacuuming he decided that it was fun to bite the cord while mommy was vacuuming. Not cute. Not safe. But, it did get a reaction out of me. How do I teach him that mommy is the boss??? Thanks for your help.

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Thank you for all the life experience advice! This site is great when you want to get a "sounding board" and make sure you and your kiddos are just perfectly normal and/ or need advice from others who have "been there, done that". Sounds like I am basically doing what I need to do and our little one will get it... over time. Patience and consistency- new good choices over bad.

I would also like to mention that the two people who sent me nasty personal messages saying that I needed to go to parenting classes- asking me how old I was, implying I was immature for asking a question- acusing me of being ultra controlling because I used the word "boss" in my question above...are honestly, totally nuts for reading waaaaaaay into my above question. Judgement isn't what this site is about is it??

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He is still a baby & doesn't understand. Continue guiding him and just removing him from dangerous situations. Harping on him won't work because he isn't developmentally ready to understand what you want from him (at least not for any length of time). I highly suggest you read up on stages and development. I think you'll find it amazingly helpful when you get an understanding of where he should be, what's normal, etc.

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I have one word: "DANGER". My husband always tell my daughter to be careful, so much so that that phrase has become meaningless to her. Therefore we came up with one word to tell her to call her attention. On occasion when we are at the park I show her things that might be appropriate for the word DANGER, such as cars in the street, or an open landing on a playground and I tell her that is she hears the word DANGER she should stop immediately and wait for direction. This has worked for us since she was 1.5 yrs. old. Keep working at it!

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Hi J.,
I recently read "Positive Discipline" by Dr Jane Nelsen and loved this book. Not because it gave me a lot of how-to advice, but because it helped me understand the world from our little one's perspective and why they do the things they do. With that understanding, it's helped me learn to redirect my son from the "no" things in a kind but firm way without getting overly frustrated myself. Actions speak louder than words. Physically picking him up and moving him to an acceptable play object (even though sometimes I have to do it over and over again) helps keep me from overusing the word. Of course, patience is key. But it seems to be working for us. There are some things that are off limits which he doesn't even try to mess with anymore. Still others that he checks to see if we're looking first. I know I'm getting through. Kids this age (mine's almost sixteen months, now) are not trying to be bad per se, there's just this whole new world to explore and their natural curiosity overrides our "no's". Impulse control does not exist in their little heads yet. I could go on and on but obviously don't want to try to rewrite the book. If nothing else, know that you're not alone out there.

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Like Tamara, we use the word "danger" with my son. He understands this... and will stop when we tell him this.

For a BABY this age.. they will not yet be able to fully understand and then correctly respond with the proper response. Yes, you are the "boss"... but you are a MOMMY first. So this is all about 'teaching' the child... and KNOWING full well, that they make mistakes, UNKNOWINGLY. This is the life of a child.

You really need to give it time... lots of time. Even at 2 years old, they will not fully comprehend their actions or the "effects" of it. Life is complicated for them! And no, they will not be perfect or instantly stop something right away... there will be MANY phases coming up... which will make you gasp and shriek and sigh. This is how it is. At this age, your son WILL NOT BE ABLE TO COGNITIVELY understand everything... a child explores and experiments. So, you just have to make sure they are safe. We cannot "assume" that they will always do things safely. Even an 8 year old or a Teen is not capable of this, yet. So, KEEP it in perspective.... age appropriately. Age appropriately. Is the key.

A tip: do NOT expect of him, what he is not capable of yet... do not expect something of him that is beyond his years. Do not expect of him (especially 'abstract' concepts) what he is developmentally not capable of yet. ALL due to his age. Give it time... in time, thru teaching and learning, he will grasp it. Just not yet.

A toddler, once he becomes this... is also a time where they are not YET good at 'listening' or complying. So keep this in mind. Or it will just be stressful for the Parent. AND, at this age, their "emotions" are STILL developing too... so all combined, this will be another 'ingredient' to stir into the pot.

I would in time, teach him 'cause and effect'... that way.. you are ALSO teaching him ramifications of things... and problem solving. But, when he is of the age that this is understandable. But never in a 'punishment' type of way.

Good luck, your son IS normal and this is what they do,

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Hi J.:
I Love that name...Has a nice Ring to it! Your question is a very common one amongst young mothers of toddlers.You've heard horror stories,or seen relatives or friends,who's children appear as spoiled,and out of control. You promised yourself,that your child was not going to turn out like theirs.He was going to be well behaved,and make you proud.I understand. However,The mothers here,such as SH and Deanna,and Sara,are all trying to tell you something. They may have shared those same fears,when they first became mothers,but they learned by experience. Your son is a healthy, normal toddler.If you concentrate on merely being the (BOSS) controling your toddler,hearing yourself repeat orders and threats all day everyday,your going to miss all the joy,and special moments you should be experiencing as a (mother) Mothers are there to nurture and love and give guidance. (Guidance) is the key here.Use any word but NO.And give him something else to occupy himself.Its important to allow him to be his own special personality. Don't make the mistake of attempting to mold him into someone you'd like him to be.Be there for him,when he needs you. For when he trips or falls.lending him your experience,some compassion,and encouragement. Don't take motherhood so seriously J.. Enjoy it.Teach your child,to do the same. Show him,how to laugh at some of his silly mistakes,and yours as well.Admit when your wrong,and show him how easy it is to say your sorry. There are no guarantees in life. You could be the ideal parent,and your child could still go astray,but I can assure you of one thing.Allowing him room to grow,make mistakes,and providing him with the tender love only us mothers can give,will leave you feeling proud,that you did the best you knew how.I wish you and your darlin son the best.J. M

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I think you answered your own question...'no' means nothing to him, because nobody has told him what it means. You can tell a toddler 'no' until you are blue in the face and it means zip. My therapist, indicated to us that kids need to have reasoning taught to them, and that things like 'no' really require a sense of what is right and wrong...toddlers just don't have that ability yet.

Here's what I've done in my preschool class and at home with my 2.5 year old little monkey...

If he is doing something dangerous, attempt to re-direct with explaination. My son became a huge fan of throwing blocks at the cat, she would move and he would throw. It was not cute or funny, but I did this...'J do not throw blocks at the cat, you could hurt her. Let's use the blocks like this.' -- then, I would sit down and show him how to use them.

If that didn't work, I worked my way up to the if you can't use your toys like Mommy showed you then Mommy will put it away in the closet for ten minutes. Set the egg timer, and usually got met with a tantrum...of enormous proportions. I would then, proceed to sit with my son and explain what he had done wrong. That it was okay to be frustrated, mad, sad...whatever, but if he can't use his toys properly then he wasn't going to be able to play with them. In essence, a 'toy timeout'.

Over a period of about two to four months, it sunk in...now, if he does something wrong I still explain and when he knows he's done something wrong he'll even walk the toy to the closet himself.

Toddlers lack impulse control, and yours is no different. He is exploring his world and trying 'new' things out...like biting the cord of the vaccum. But, he has no idea why you're telling him 'no' or yanking his arm or changing the tone of your voice. Your little one is not just trying to get a reaction out of you, but trying to figure out his world. Now, he just needs a little guidance from Mom about how to deal with his world and what is 'right and wrong'.

He's only 14 months old, and needs you to show him these things. Kids to automatically know how to behave or how to be good...

Good Luck!

2 moms found this helpful

He is still a baby & doesn't understand. Continue guiding him and just removing him from dangerous situations. Harping on him won't work because he isn't developmentally ready to understand what you want from him (at least not for any length of time). I highly suggest you read up on stages and development. I think you'll find it amazingly helpful when you get an understanding of where he should be, what's normal, etc.

1 mom found this helpful

I have one word: "DANGER". My husband always tell my daughter to be careful, so much so that that phrase has become meaningless to her. Therefore we came up with one word to tell her to call her attention. On occasion when we are at the park I show her things that might be appropriate for the word DANGER, such as cars in the street, or an open landing on a playground and I tell her that is she hears the word DANGER she should stop immediately and wait for direction. This has worked for us since she was 1.5 yrs. old. Keep working at it!

1 mom found this helpful

At 14 months your child is doing exactly what he should be doing - exploring his world. I wouldn't want you to be saying no so much that you discourage him from trying things and exploring. When my son was this age I made our family room "kid safe" meaning everthing dangerous was moved or protected. We gated the kitchen and the hallway, we had a lock on the VCR, we moved breakables etc. Our son then had a space where he could explore without me saying no every 2 minutes. Save no for really dangerous things and then you can still be calm but move him away or gently hold him so that he sees that no has consequences.
good luck!

You are teaching him the meaning of no. However, he may be doing things to get a reaction from you. After all how fun is it to find and push your parent's buttons. But, no can become meaningless if it is heard too often. Try adding other words like don't, stop, freeze. With my kids it sometimes worked really well to not only tell them what not to do but to also show them something appropriate to do as a reminder of that rule. I would tell them, "Don't touch. Show me don't touch." I'd then demonstrate waving my arms back and forth in a way that they could associate with not touching something. You know they get this concept when they walk over to an item or piece of furniture and show you this motion. Which of course should be well rewarded with lots of attention and praise.

Ultimately I think it comes down to time and effort. Eventually they wil give up the battle and settle into following the rules. Then you'll test them again, then accept them. I wish the pattern would end. Maybe it will but I haven't seen the end so far.

We had this same problem with our son. What seemed to work is we would add descriptions to "no" when we would say it. This seemed to work. For instance, if he went for the garbage can I would say "no, dirty" and then maybe repeat dirty and make an icky face. If he was doing something dangerous, I would say "no, danger!" and make kind of a scared face. Now we pretty much can say "dirty" or "danger" and he knows the meaning of them. They understand more words than you will ever think so maybe telling them why you are saying "no" will work better. Hope this helps!

startle hime with a firm swat on his behind (on his diaper) and say NO...... if he continues repeat this and pick him up and put him in his crib/playpen and walk away for a min or two....then when you come back into get him (oh let him cry when you put him in there too) tell him MOMMY SAID NO

You can try the count down method. It's different from counting one to ten because most kids know or learn (your child is a bit young but it seems that the sooner you get the idea across to him the better) that there are tons of numbers after 10. In fact YOU know there are numbers after 10 and can always add. But if you count backwards...there IS an end where you have to do something and your child knows it.

I used to tell my kids NOT to do something and if I had to repeat it, I began with 10...9...and if it was something really urgent, I'd begin at 5. That way both you and the child KNOWS there IS an end to the threat. As my youngest (who was in college at the time) confessed one day..."We lived in fear of what would happen when you hit one."

I say "used to" because my 3 kids are all adults. One is a mother of 2 little boys, the middle is a doctor that just became a father of a little girl, and the youngest graduated with 2 degrees and is working on her career.

This is such a difficult stage. They want to explore their world, but their communication skills are less than great. I agree with what someone said below, you don't want them to become tired of the word no so that it doesn't mean anything anymore. I always used the phrase "That is not OK!" (I still do with my teenagers now!) I also tried removing them from the situation and holding them for a few minutes even when they were uncomfortable with it. After a while, they have to focus on you, and what you are saying. It's time consuming, but no matter what direction you go in, you are going to have to accept that this is going to be time consuming and that it will take some time. They aren't going to figure it out right away, especially when there are things they want to do!

My son got into everything(he's 21 months now) and puts everything he can in his mouth so I understand where you're coming from. One thing that has worked really really well for us is holding him/restraining him. Not on your lap but when he opened a door he wasn't supposed to or touched something he wasn't allowed to, I would hold his arms sternly, not pick him up. Restrain him in essence. He would cry and try to get free but while I was holding his arms, I would tell him that wasn't ok in a stern but calm voice. You restrain until he relents. I never would hold him or pick him up until he stopped crying. It works wonders and I didn't feel like I was yelling or saying no all the time.

Good luck!

I like the count down idea. Try not to say "no" for anything less then serious no's. Things he needs to stop that second like when they know nothing of stairs and somehow get near the step and his heading down. Even then unless I'm really far away from him and couldn't just pick him up... I don't even think I'd say it. My son is almost one and I think I've actually said NO less then five times, All of which were in the last month or so. I don't think they want to get a reaction out of us exactly and I don't think biting the vacume cord warrants any reaction. If you honestly think he is going to chew through it, and I think he could eventually, then just put the vacuum away. Maybe it's just me but if my son puts the vacuum cord in his mouth I think it's that he gets a better sense of objects by putting them in his mouth. I'm not his boss and it's not a battle. Ease up a bit. Maybe decide on what warrants a NO before hand make a list. If you can't make a list because there are too many things that could come up then imagine growing up and exploring a world and the person you count on the most saying No all the time. How else can you interpret that other then some kind of game. I say a few things when my son does something that could potentially harm him. " mommy needs her cord to vacuum, that's not a snack. Then he just goes with the program. If he doesn't then I pick him up and vacume together or stop what I'm doing and go back to the vacume when it works out I can. It's a lot of work, he's been walking for a long time now, he eats sand, he plays in the dog food, he takes things out of the dishwasher he climbs he bites! Let's not forget when he's tired he loves to blow raspberries when I'm rocking him and bite me. If I say NO he laughs. then his laugh is so cute I laugh. I deal with it other ways though and it does work. You might be making it harder on yourself then you need to.

It sounds like you have a very intelligent and curious boy.
Children have a biological imperitive to explore, test limits and discover how their actions impact the world around them. "Does she mean it this time? What about this time? What happens when I do this?" Along with saying no and meaning it is helpful to give choices about what behaviors are okay. " No, you cannot bite the vacuum cord. It is not safe. You can bite...the pillow, the cord on your pull toy", etc. whatever you think is appropriate and safe.
when we say no we have to give them choices of what they can do. Of course, this is all very exhausting when you are taking care of a household and trying to keep him safe. I think there is nothing more exhausting than raising a young child. Good Luck. K. H.

He is testing you, totally normal. You just have to stick to your guns. Make sure no means no. Take him out of the situation. My dd is 13 months old and doing the same thing, but worse. She flings her hands around and smacks me in the face while I am feeding her. I firmly tell her NO and push her hand down and she laughs at me!! I have to do my best not to laugh because she does this snyde little laugh like HeeHee with the bottle in her mouth so it sounds funny, but it is obviously not! They will get it eventually but in the meantime it is a bit frustrating. I just wanted to let you know you are not alone. : )

yes, it is pretty exhausting. You will have to be on him relentlessly from now until he is about three. Just keep repeating the same words (I always said "that is DANGEROUS" and/or "that is not for babies" when I pulled my kids away.) I tried to to say NO because that is such an easy word to say and you don't want that to be one of his first or favorite words. Actually it will eventually become his favorite word, but that is a post for another day.

The physical actions work better than verbal, so always pull him away from whatever he's doing and then give him something else that is fun to do. Just keep at it. It is what you need to do!

My son is just a few weeks older - so I'm in kinda the same boat. This may be the same case for your son - where he seems to understand what NO means, but often choses to ignore it. My understanding is that it's normal at this age, we just have to continue to be consistent as we're teaching them and eventually they'll get it (I hope). But I like the Danger thing - I think I'll try that one too. Good luck.

I've found it helpful to use descriptive words instead of "no", words like "danger", "hot" or "hurt". I think that when you teach a child why you don't want them to do something, they're less likely to rebel. For instance, if he bites the vacuum cord again, say "danger, hurt!" and look scared and concerned. Teach him to take care of himself.

It's so funny because I read your question and it sounds like my life right now! I just wanted to say that I for one am glad you asked this questions because it really helps to hear that it will eventually sink in. I am saying "no" all day to my 14 month old boy and it seems to just encourage him to do it more! Frustrating! Well good luck to you, the people that sent you nasty messages are the ones who are immature, not you :).

Just keep saying no a thousand times, he'll eventually get it. He understands it now, he just refuses to obey. Pretty soon he's old enough for time outs. I don't remember what age my kids started timeouts, but maybe 18 mos? That really helped. A minute for each year of age. Good luck!!

J., i would totally have reacted to the vaccuum cord as well, especially considering it is covered in lead.

i am in the same boat as you, and trying to use words like "away", "leave it" and the like. it works quite a bit but not all the time. i am interested in reading the responses to your good question!

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