We have an almost 13-month-old daughter. She's found that when she touches a power cord or near an electrical outlet and we say "no" that it's a bit of a game. She gets a funny smirk on her face until we approach her, at which point she runs away with a smile on her face.

How do we teach her that it's dangerous and not a game? Or is this just part of being a 1-year-old?

  • Also see my answer to a related question: As Christine said, reserve no for dangerous situations, for the rest different strategies can be applied.
    – mthomas
    Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 21:52

8 Answers 8


This is why it is advantageous to only say the word "no" and use a stern voice when you really mean it. I save it for health & safety concerns, personally.

You can also try using something other than "no", like "uh-huh" or whatever is a noise you don't normally make for the non-safety/non-emergency scenarios.

Use a 'teacher' voice, and move her away from whatever she's getting into.

All that being said, make sure your house is baby/toddler-proofed as much as possible to prevent as much as possible.

  • Plus one for pointing out all the other cues and forms of communication that are important. Tone of voice is very powerful, and you need to pay attention to what tone of voice you use when you speak to your child. You can also use code words or phrases. For example: "That's dangerous and I don't want you to get hurt." If repeated and used consistently, it will be learned as a sign that you are serious. You will need to follow up with actions to start with, but then they'll learn to obey the tone of voice. Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 6:33

Yes, it's part of being a 1yo. But there are obviously lots of circumstances when she has to realise that NO means NO. So when you really mean it, you have to back up your words with actions - if she doesn't stop, put her in her cot (or something) for a minute or two. Make her realise that actions have consequences.

  • Welcome to the community benshepherd! Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 22:30
  1. The first step is to recognize your child is at a developmental stage that includes learning how she has a certain amount of sway over the others in her life - this is what the "game" really is. Know that this too, shall pass.
  2. The second step is to avoid over-use of the word, "no." yes you need to say no sometimes, but you should reserve use of the word no for the most egregious or safety-related things and say it with a tone that lets her know you are serious. There are replacements for the word "no," like "wait," "stop," and "first." that can be used when and where appropriate for those in the middle issues.
  3. Lastly, accompany the word "no" with an action. The action does not need to be a punishment and should be done gently smoothly without jerking, or any other motion that might be painful for the little one. The objective is to move her away from danger (cause and effect is a new concept that is just now beginning to enter her experience, time outs, slaps, and other such things will only create confusion and fear. Instead, your action can be to grab and hold her hand, move her away from the item about which she is curious while you distract her with something else, strap her in the stroller (if she is running away from you while shopping or something) and other occasion-appropriate types of actions. Explain your actions concisely while you perform them. For example, "It is safer for you to stay with mommy right now."

Children at that age often understand a lot more than we give them credit for, particularly non-verbal cues such as tone, facial expressions, and posture.

Rather than trying to revise how you use language, to add particular weight to the word "no" (in my experience, it is easier said than done to replace such a common and fundamental word with other terms for all but the most serious situations), try reserving your sternest face and tone of voice for those situations.

Most importantly, follow up by getting down to your daughter's eye level (after chasing her down if she runs away), ensuring that you have direct eye contact, and then tell her calmly, but without smiling, that she has to listen when mommy and daddy tell her not to touch things, because some things are dangerous and can hurt her, and you don't want that to happen.

If you do this consistently, it takes the fun out of the game for her. She'll see that you are not happy, and pick up on the fact that she's crossed a boundary.

It took maybe half a dozen repetitions with my son when he started doing the exact same thing, but now he quite clearly understands that when mommy or daddy get the "serious look", he needs to stop.

Just be consistent and persistent, and don't use the same stern tone and follow-up for trivial infractions.

  • +1 for the debriefing, making sure she understands when you're serious about something. Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 15:33
  • +1 for the serious look. I need only raise an eyebrow with my students :) Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 22:58

Use a different word. We use the word "Stop - no touch" very firmly when we need them to quit touching. We reserve the word Stop for times when we are 100% absolutely serious and there are always consequences if they don't stop and step away. The word No is always overused so we tried to pick one that is just as good but not as used.

  • I read that babies hear the last word of a sentence most clearly so when you say "no touch" they hear touch. This is an important way they learn language and is apparently why English babies learn nouns but other babies learn verbs first. Depending on which typically come last in the sentence. Perhaps just "no, hands off or something. Anyway I just learned this and found it very interesting! Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 5:04

My little one responds with great frustration if you pick him up when he's doing something he likes, and put him back down a bit further away. It's the greatest punishment we have, to accompany with the 'no' word when we really mean it. In my experience, the word on its own, even the stern tone of voice, are not so much of a punishment until the child is a little bit older (18 months or so in our case). So I would look for some punishment to accompany the 'no', something that is acceptable for you but will briefly make your child upset, so that the upset feeling gets associated with approaching the electrical outlet.

  • In using the word "no", punishment is never my goal. Under two, it is my goal to make it stand out from among other speech which is why I only use "no" when I need immediate results (ie they're about to put something small in their mouth, stick their finger in a socket, etc). It gives me just enough time to move them / redirect their attention somewhere safer. Rather than associating the unpleasant feeling with the outlet, I think they may be associating it with me if I 'punished' them at such a young age. Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 21:16

well, it pretty much IS a game. learn how to mess with your parents' emotions. learn what you can get away with and what you can't.

it's part of learning how things work.

if it's a thing you have no hope of explaining to her, just say "no" and grab her. just try to explain as much as is reasonable and try not to go overboard on the emotions.

  • Great advice, "try not to go overboard on the emotions". Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 22:27

In the UK we have homes heated by hot water running through radiators, hot enough to hurt, but a brief touch doesn't injure. I told my son "No! Hot!" when he went to touch one. He then touched it while looking at me. I didn't react, but he did. From then on he understood that "no" was about safety.

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