In this episode: Janet responds to a parent who says she tries to create safe spaces for her 7-month-old to explore, but she spends a lot of time at her parents’ house and feels they’re always on edge, telling her daughter “no.” This mom wants to avoid “creating issues or desensitizing her to the word” and is hoping Janet has suggestions how to encourage her daughter’s curiosity while keeping her safe.
Transcript of “Instead of No, No, No… (4 Tips for Keeping Your Baby Explorer Safe)”
Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. In today’s podcast, I’m going to be responding to an email that I received from the parent of a 7-month-old. She says that they spend a lot of time at her own parent’s house. And she’s tried to make the space there as safe as possible so her daughter can explore. But there are things she can get into. And she feels her parents are constantly saying, “No, no, no, no…” And she’s concerned. She doesn’t want her daughter to be desensitized to the word “no” later in life.
Okay, here’s the email I received:
Hi, Janet. Thank you so much for your podcast. You’ve given me so much insight and understanding. I have a 7-month-old and I’m trying to create a safe space for independent play. However, I spend a lot of time at my mum and dad’s house. I’ve made the space there as safe as I can for my daughter to explore, but I find she always finds things to play with that she shouldn’t. For example, chewing power cords that may be in her reach. How can I say, “No, that isn’t safe for you,” without creating issues or desensitizing her to the word no later in life? I struggle as I find my parents are forever saying, “No, no, no,” to everything. Even things like lifting herself to stand on certain furniture. I believe she has to be able to lift herself onto something, otherwise how will she be able to stand? Any feedback would be appreciated.”
Okay, so this is a great question. One of the core recommendations of the approach I teach, Magda Gerber’s approach, is creating a safe, what I call a “yes space”, for your baby. And starting this as early as possible so that you can have peace of mind while with your baby, enjoying his or her activities and choices, hanging out with them in this safe area where we don’t have to say, “No, no, no.” And also being able to occasionally leave to go get a cup of tea or go to the bathroom and feel 100% sure that our child is safe. We can have peace of mind. We can even sometimes get a few things done around the house. This parent says she’s working on that, so that’s wonderful. But even with those spaces, we aren’t able to use them all the time. Sometimes even at home our child will be out of that space. And definitely when we’re at other places, if we’re staying in a hotel, at a friend’s house, or at the grandparent’s, we can’t expect that they’re going to have those 100% safe places.
So what’s the best way to handle the explorations that our child has? What do we do when our child is going towards the dog food or a power cord, as in the example that this parent gives? I agree with her that saying, “No, no, no,” all the time is discouraging. And it also can immune our child to the word no. And no can become in their eyes a suggestion to be rebellious, have our own will, and say yes when that person’s saying no. So for those reasons, as this parent says, it’s not great to be saying, “No, no, no,” to our child, or “do this,” “do that,” or be on edge, or stopping them and not giving them that freedom to do what they do best at this age, which is learn, explore, and experiment in their environments.
So the first thing I would do is prevent these situations as much as possible as this mother is doing in her mom and dad’s home — she says she’s making the space as safe as possible — so that we don’t have to constantly interrupt and feel we’ve got to keep our focus on all these things our child is doing all the time. So that we can relax. Our relaxation, I really can’t say this enough, is the key to our child feeling calm, to our child being able to be a productive explorer, and to be able to focus on their positive activities instead of getting hooked into the stress they feel coming from us.
And that’s, again, one of the reasons that a “yes space” can be a godsend, both when we’re with our child, paying attention, observing their activities, enjoying being with them, and when we have to leave. So doing what we can to make the environment as stress free as possible.
And that also might mean the time of day that we visit. Children usually feel at their best in the mid to late morning. Well, this baby’s probably still taking a nap in the morning. But first thing in the morning is the time when babies are at their best. So even the way that we time these things for a situation when our child can be in them with their basic needs taken care of, that will help them to behave in a productive, positive way.
There’s a trait we’re all born with that is gold and that I would do anything and everything I could to protect, and preserve, and encourage. And that’s curiosity. Children are born with this ability to, as Magda Gerber said, be self-learners. They come into the world this way. And they are naturally curious about every little thing. These little dents in the plaster, the dust particles, the pattern of the carpet. All of these things that we take for granted, and are bored by, and don’t even notice anymore are interesting to children. And allowing them to develop and nurture this natural curiosity will translate into them becoming intrinsically motivated learners throughout the school years and beyond. Children are born with this love of learning. Sometimes without meaning to, we can discourage it a little bit. And one of the ways we discourage it is the no, no, no. And not noticing what that situation is through our child’s eyes, which is often, this is actually really cool. I want to know about this. I want to touch this. We want to try to do that when we’re intervening rather than coming at this with a no. That’s a more general bit of advice, but let me get into some more specifics.
So number two, we want to intervene in those situations in a way that’s not excited and tense. That means, whenever possible, we want to walk rather than lunge in to stop something. We want to come in slowly so that we don’t put that energy and that power into the experience. That power and that energy is what keeps children stuck there as they explore that. So we want to try to avoid that by going slowly. And ideally, again, when we do set up these environments as much as possible, we’re going to be preventative. Especially the major things that could occur in a second. We’re not going to leave knives around. We’re not going to leave things that would be an emergency for us. So when we are being preventative, obviously we want to consider at least getting rid of the serious issues. And then we can come in slowly. We see our child going towards the object. Or we see them touching it.
And really the … I hate to say the worst thing we can do because it’s not that big of a deal. But the most unproductive thing we can do is to say something from across the room. “No, no, no, don’t do that!” And that’s the thing that we do commonly do. It’s not only with 7-month-olds, but older children as well. Saying something to try to stop that behavior when the child is already in motion often does not work.
So I would go close and be there so that I can notice, “Hey, yeah, you want to touch that. That’s interesting, isn’t it?” Meanwhile, I’m putting my hand there in a manner that’s preventing it from, let’s say, going in my child’s mouth. Or sticking their finger inside the socket. I would sit right in front of it. I would do the minimal thing that I can do to allow them to actually explore it. That could be just with their eyes. Or if there’s some touching that’s safe, I would let them do that.
And I would be, at that point, seeing from their point of view instead of coming in with a direction of my own or wanting to tell them they can’t do that, therefore giving it power. Instead I want to actually empower their natural curiosity by letting them take it to the extent that they can. And if we’re in the middle of something and we don’t have enough time to do this, we don’t have to spend a lot of time. It’s really a perspective. It’s not about sitting there for hours discussing the socket or the cord. It’s about putting our hand there, letting our child do what they can in that moment, and then when we see that they need us to stop them, we stop them. “Oh yeah, you want to put that in your mouth. I can’t let you.” Meanwhile, my hand is there making sure it doesn’t go in their mouth. “You can look at this, you can touch this, but I can’t let you put it in your mouth.” That would be true with a leaf from outside, a rock maybe. So something from nature or things inside of a house. Acknowledging the interest. Joining our child in that wonderful curiosity that they have. We actually, in these moments, can get a glimpse of, oh yeah, that is kind of cool, isn’t it? And see these mundane things with new eyes.
Then we see that our child, now they’re trying again to put it in their mouth after I’ve stopped them the first time. At some point very early, not letting this go too far, I would say, “Oh, you’re really having a hard time with that. I’m going to move it,” if it’s something that can move. “I’m gonna take the leaf. I’m going to take the rock.” If it’s a cord, then we really just have to have our hand on it and say, “Yeah, I’m going to stop you from doing that.” And then just sit there and carry on our conversation with the grandparents or whatever we’re doing. Just calmly la, la, la with our hand there. Not making this exciting. Not making this a powerful exercise for our child. That’s what allows the interest to play out. And children don’t get stuck there as much. But if they sense that no, no, no, or that raised eyebrow even, or that little bit of *gasp* coming from us, they’re going to need to keep exploring that.
So what we want to actually do here is encourage the behavior while limiting the result or the harm. That’s actually the opposite of the way most of us will naturally feel or instinctively react. Usually we’re just trying to stop the behavior. But if we instead say, “Yeah, I want to encourage you wanting to check out every single thing in this room,” to the extent that it’s safe to do so, that helps preserve that golden quality our children have at this age. And that means also that we’re coming at this from a place of basic trust in our children. Not here’s these naughty children and they’re gonna be doing naughty stuff. We’re seeing, yeah, our child wants to do cool things. She’s a learner. That’s what she’s supposed to do. She’s doing her job. This is how she’s learn, develop more in the first three years than in the whole rest of her life. This golden quality.
And then when the grandparents are doing other things, let them do those things. We can’t try to control what other people do. And it will drive us crazy if we do try. So, understand that what they’re doing is instinctive, it’s normal. There’s nothing wrong with it. But we’re going to model a different approach.
And also if you are there physically, if you are calmly walking over, you’re observing enough to see in advance that this could be a thing over there, this could be a point of interest. I’m going to be ready. So when he or she starts to wander over there, I’m going to kind of wander over too. We’re showing the other people (that are concerned about our child, naturally, and out of love) that we’ve got this. That we’re on top of this. That they don’t have to be the ones to try to control. And that will help give them peace of mind so that they can get out of that uncomfortable mode of trying to control behavior. Our daughter or son is on this and they’re taking care of it. I don’t have to be on alert all the time.
I think that will make a big difference. Because oftentimes when people act in those nervous ways around us as parents, it’s because they’re not sensing that the situation is under control. And they feel a little scared that they have to be the ones to do that.
(1) Prevent dangerous or inappropriate activities whenever possible.
(2) Walk, don’t run.
(3) Encourage the behavior while limiting the result or the harm.
(4) Perceive this positively. Come from a place of trust.
That’s what I recommend. And I also do share on these topics in one of my posts. It’s called “No Way To Treat A Baby.” And I go over some basics for handling these typical, exploratory, wonderfully positive behaviors. I hope some of that helps.
Also please check out some of the other podcasts on my website: Janetlansbury.com. They’re all indexed by subject and category, so you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in. And both of my books are available on Audio, No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting. You can get them for free from Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast. Or you can go to the books section of my website. You can also get them in paperback at Amazon and in ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and apple.com.
Thank you for listening. We can do this.
Hi I’m trying to figure out how to download your books for free as you said, “You can get them for free from Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast.” I’m just not sure how to do this. Every link i click on sends me either to amazon or audible and they are not free.
Hi Jamie! Thank you for your interest in my books. If you are already a member of Audible, the free offer doesn’t apply, unfortunately. When you click on the links where I mention my books, they take you to Audible where they have a free introductory offer. Sorry for any inconvenience!
Great pieces of advice, thank you! As people say: never tell your baby “no”. Instead, replace the activity. If you say “no” without giving substitute, you just create frustration.
Thank you Janet. Such a helpful and inspiring response focusing on RIE’s underlying principles of respect for the child’s need to move and explore while at the same time offering parents guidance on how to keep their child as safe as possible when in a not in fully safe environment, i.e. the real world. Observing, anticipating and intervening only when necessary–gently, slowly with simple descriptive words. Trusting and enjoying the child who is “an initiator, an explorer and a self-learner”. I will recommend this post to families in my “Discover Your Baby” classes.
Thank you so much, Lee!