Cute baby

Testing the boundaries is a normal part of your baby’s development

The word “naughty” just doesn’t seem to fit with the picture most of us have of little babies and I don’t think it’s entirely appropriate to describe babies as either “good” or “naughty”. Instead we should rather try to evaluate whether a baby’s behaviour is age-appropriate or not.  For instance, it’s entirely age appropriate for a 3 month old baby to cry when her mother lays her down in her cot and walks away, since the 3 month old won’t be able to understand what has happened to her mother, but a 23 month old child will understand that she has been put in her cot because her mother wants her to sleep and she will know that she might be able to get her mother to change her mind if she were to cry loudly.

The development of a child’s “own will” is a very subtle process.  Soon after birth babies will start to realise that they have the ability to influence their environment.  When they cry their parents come to see whether something is wrong, when they kick the mobile above their cot it moves.  It is very important for babies to know that someone will react when they need something as this helps to build their self-esteem and establishes feelings of trust and safety.  

The realisation that they can influence their environment steadily progresses to a point where babies may try to communicate to their mother that they might not always feel like doing what the mother wants them to do and they subsequently try to find a way to change the mother’s goal directed behaviour.  This is a natural process and plays a very important role in your baby’s developing self-esteem and personality.

 Your babies “manipulative” behaviour helps him to understand that the people around him care for him and wants him to be happy and comfortable.  But it is important to start setting age appropriate boundaries to guide your child in the right direction.  The most important boundaries revolve around those rules that keep your child safe and these should never be negotiable.  If your child stands up in her high chair she needs to understand that you will first put the food away and make her sit in her highchair before you continue feeding her.  If she carries on with this behaviour you might have to take her out of the high chair and explain that she is not allowed to sit in it as long as she continues to stand up in the chair.    

Later, rules that help your home function harmoniously such as those around sleep time, bath time, etc can be established.  These rules can be slightly more negotiable – the operative word being slightly.  For instance a 23 month old child that cries because she does not want to go to sleep at an age-appropriate time can first be distracted with a story book and later (15 minutes or so) you can try to put her back to sleep again, even if it means having to lay down next to her until she falls asleep – but gradually she will start to understand that she has to go to bed round about the same time every night because it is good for her.  If this child were allowed to only go to bed at midnight because she cries at the age-appropriate bed time she will realise that she can continually manipulate her parents to get whatever she wants.  This kind of behaviour can begin to be considered as “naughty”. 

It is vitally important to react as soon as possible to a little babies cries, but you might want to wait just a few moments before responding to an older baby’s cry (unless she is in danger).  These are the first steps in teaching her delayed gratification and also to soothe herself.

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