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I want him to be well behaved but I also want him to be happy and to feel loved by us. I find it difficult to balance telling him off so the he understands not to drop food on the floor, grab my glasses, wriggle off the changing unit etc.

Sometimes I'm trying to stop him hurting himself, others just to try and raise a well behaved child. The only way I think he understands is to be very stern when telling him off but it feels like I spend too long talking to him sternly!

Do I need to relax with him a bit? I want him to have fun, feel loved but I also feel my duty is to make him understand what is right and wrong.

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    Hi, Ryan, and welcome to the site. If I may, what is your cultural background? The answers you get from people in on one continent may be significantly different than from another. If you can elucidate, that might help. Again, welcome! – anongoodnurse Jun 25 '15 at 4:11
  • Hi - thanks a lot for your answer! I am British, living in HK. – Ryan Jun 25 '15 at 5:01
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    FWIW we try to strike a balance, where we are stern with things that are a matter of safety. At this point, I don't care if they understand 'cause and effect' when it comes to matters of safety. If there are things that will HURT them, if speaking to them sternly stops them, then we do that. Whatever it takes to keep the child safe. Obviously you should first take measures to make a safe environment. – n00b Jun 26 '15 at 15:01
  • Please stop rolling back the edits on your Question. Removing introductory salutations and signoffs is standard practice, even on Parenting.SE, and nobody's trying to "be a robot" by editing. You are welcome to bring it up on Parenting Meta if you think it's critical to your Question's clarity or intent. – Acire Jun 27 '15 at 17:31
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There is both no need and no sense of being strict with a 9mo baby. With 1,5-2 YO, maybe.

You should, however, be consistent. Make sure your reactions to various actions are consistent. Control your reaction, including facial expressions and your tone appropriately to the situation. Talk to your wife and try to reach a consensus each time your baby does something one of you dislikes.

Differentiate your reactions based on how bad is something the baby is doing or how much you don't want to do it. An example of "prepared" reactions for behaviors of a now 1.5 yo which we try to stick to

  • life/health threatening situations (electric plugs, running towards a street, touching a red-hot oven, etc.) -> a loud and angry "don't!" , stern expression, putting the baby away and a short timeout/ignore [*]
  • minor health-threatening/inconvenience situations (a bit too warm tea, wet grass, possible minor fall) -> stern expression, "it's hot, if you touch it your hand will hurt" / "you'll have wet socks if you go there" / "be careful or you will fall" and let the child experience the effect on its own (if your conscience allows it, and trust me, allowing it is more difficult than you think)
  • breaking parents' rules, no or little danger to health (goes into a closet, gets too far away from parents) -> stern expression, "you can't go in there", pick up and put away fro the place, timeout/ignore
  • not fulfilling requests (put toys to the box, clean the water you spilled) -> sad face, verbal reprimend ("a good girl puts the toys to the box after she's done playing"), wait a while, repeat, then clean myself with sad face still

[*] My daughter seemed to understand that picking her up, putting somewehere else and going away from her and ignoring her for a while with sad/angry face was a punishment. She reacted to it well, meaning her behavior did change eventually when using this method.

After a while your child will understand what kind of "threat level" his behavior is causing and may respond well. If you have built up your reputation with lvl 2 threats (allowed a few minor headbumps which came despite your warning) your baby will most likely listen to you whn you warn it.

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    "a good girl puts the toys to the box..." I would recommend avoiding labeling a person. An action, fine: "It's helpful to mommy and daddy if you pick up your toys..." But she will label herself "bad" often enough without any help. – anongoodnurse Jun 25 '15 at 20:47
  • It's probably a good idea to avoid making assumptions like the ones present in "talk to your wife" when there is no evidence in the question that OP is married to a woman. As far as the content of the question is concerned, OP could be a single father, a woman named Ryan (rare but not unheard of), or a gay man. – R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE Jun 26 '15 at 3:16
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    @R.. there's a signature with man's name, and there's loves us in the question, not to mention a man's picture. I've 99% chance of being right. I'll take that chance. If sbd gets insulted, I'll apologize later, I mean well. – Dariusz Jun 26 '15 at 5:28
  • Hot tea is often not "minor health-threatening" but "immediate visit to the emergency room". Spilling boiling water on yourself is very dangerous. Better safe than sorry. – Erik Jun 26 '15 at 7:16
  • @Erik hot isn't boiling. Would warm be a better word? Isn't warm just... drinkable? – Dariusz Jun 26 '15 at 7:33
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Children at 9 months really don't understand cause and effect yet[1]. As far as he knows at this point, you're being stern with him and he doesn't have any idea why.

Your son will eventually respond to gentle repetition. When my daughter (now nearly two) would grab my glasses, I would tell her "no, please don't do that" and take my glasses back without putting up a fuss. I would keep doing that even if it happens over and over. If she didn't stop doing that after several times, I would put her down or otherwise distract her with something else.

Recently she has been putting her knees up while at the table (in a highchair). I've been telling her for weeks to please put her feet down, and she does so whenever I ask. Now I can just sort of look at her and nod, and she puts her feet down. It's really quite magical!


  1. From California Department of Education: Foundation: Cause and Effect:

    At around 36 months of age, children demonstrate an understanding of cause and effect by making predictions about what could happen and reflect upon what caused something to happen.

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  • I think what bothered me is that she already sounds well-behaved, so she easily does what you want - compared to a child who is "the kind to view a statement like "Don't do that" as an open invitation to do it" It took me quite a while to figure out why I don't think gentle repetition is the only thing that is needed here - imo, repetition could still result in a power struggle like in the linked question. I think the other piece has just been taken for granted, which is a positive loving connection with the child. =) – DoubleDouble Jun 25 '15 at 21:43
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    This would be an awsome answer if there was some citation for the (presumably correct) assertion "Children at 9 months really don't understand cause and effect yet" – user3143 Jun 26 '15 at 0:14
  • @user3143: Indeed, thanks for the nudge. Added reference. – Greg Hewgill Jun 26 '15 at 1:10
  • It would be even nicer still it that citation was a primary source, eg an accademic paper with details of the study. :-) – Lyndon White Jun 26 '15 at 2:56
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There is no doubt (in my mind) that children can be trained to be "good babies".

American Indians in times past would start soon after birth teaching a child not to cry. Back then, a cry might alert a nearby enemy, startle an animal being hunted, whatever. It was important. So the moment a baby started to cry, they would pinch it's nostrils shut. The initial reaction to this was panic, because infants are obligate nose breathers, so they would stop crying. Applied every time a baby started to cry taught the child to simply not cry. So they had a "good baby", but at what cost? I assume it wasn't small.

You say you want a good baby (don't we all!). But there is a price to pay for a baby who has learned a hard lesson to stop doing what comes naturally to them: testing gravity, cause and effect ("If I drop the bowl, will daddy bend over/bring it back?")

The only way I think he understands is to be very stern when telling him off but it feels like I spend too long talking to him sternly!

The way this works (and if you are very consistent, it will work!) is that he will learn to fear doing the behavior because of the displeasure it invokes in you. When he does something unwanted, he feels unsafe in your harsh speech. So he'll stop, eventually.

I want him to be well behaved but I also want him to be happy and to feel loved by us.

If the culture you are in values obedience and tidiness above individual expression, this will be a good way to make your child conform. And he may well get heaps of praise for being a "good baby". But the real question is will he feel loved? It depends on how you define love.

As an American, I think you're expecting a lot from your son. The only thing I would consistently discourage is grabbing the glasses, and I wouldn't yell. I would just say no, take back my glasses and put the baby in a boring place for a minute or two (an empty playpen for example). Every time he did it.

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    Yes. Consistency is more valuable than being stern. Gently modeling the right behaviors, and redirecting a child "going wrong" are key. If a child learns that "bad actions = yelling parent", he will become a yelling child. Pick your battles, and be consistent. – Floris Jun 25 '15 at 13:58
  • You wrote a very frightening story about the way to stop the baby from crying. I wonder if that is real and I am frightened. – Aquarius_Girl Jun 28 '15 at 6:30
  • @TheIndependentAquarius - Yes, it's real, but it's not a recommendation. Since we don't war with our nearest neighbors or hunt for food, I don't think anyone needs to do it anymore. That doesn't mean it wasn't important then. – anongoodnurse Jun 28 '15 at 7:37
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I can't help you with "try and raise a well behaved child" because this isn't specific enought. I can tell you what we did for other things.

We made sure there was nothing we didn't want our kid to grab at his reach (plants, statues, ...) . If there was, we would say to give it back. We also made the house kid friendly (his toys/books were at reach, we had a small safe stool to see the counter, ...). We could then let the kid pretty much do what ever he wanted in the house and let him explore/test the world. Note, when you son will be a bit older and explored everything you wanted him to, he will start exploring everything you don't want him to. If these things are limited, your live will be easier.

As for food, it took about a month of repeating "food stays on the table" a few times each day. We would give him one piece of food at a time. Than, at 12mo he would push the food he didn't want or give it to us (we didn't force him to eat).

So, prevention is key and than it's just repetition. When he will be older and can talk, then it's a whole different story. You can teach him how to properly do things.

Also, to make things easier for us, we had a small rule. If the kid own a problem, we let him figure it out.

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