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Catch Them Being Good
by Saralee Sky

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When your baby is new – really for the whole first year – nothing he can do is ‘wrong’. No behavior, no matter how nerve-wracking, is in need of discipline. When your baby cries, he is telling you that something is wrong. He is trying to tell you that he’s hungry or wet or tired,  – something!   It is up to you to learn to read his cues, and understand his different cries. Sound impossible? Don’t worry. It’s really not as hard as you think. Just relax, take a deep breath, and have faith that your baby knows what he needs and will tell you if you listen and trust your connection to him to help you out.

As your baby grows and becomes a toddler, she will begin to test out her new-found freedom by getting into everything she can reach, things she’s been watching for a long time, but was unable to get to. My grandson started crawling in his fifth month. When he finally mastered the art of going forward, he made a beeline for his big sister’s toy box! He’d been watching that box for months! Your baby is not being naughty, just exploring her world. Put safe things on the shelf she can reach or in a cupboard she can open and move unsafe things out of her reach. Then her explorations will be like a treasure hunt.

As your baby approaches 18 months to 2 years old, he will start to define his boundaries, as in, “This is me and this is NOT me.” NO will be heard a lot around your house from your toddler – and it should be. It is vital that he learn where he stops and the rest of the world starts. This is also the stage when some discipline may be called for. He may start to experiment with hitting or biting, and temper tantrums are just around the corner.           

When you need to discipline your child, please remember, her behavior may be ‘bad’, but her motives are pure and so is she. She is only looking for attention or love or understanding  – the same things we adults need from those we love. Resist the urge to assign negative or nasty motives to the unpleasant behavior. In fact, ignore the bad behavior as much as possible. This is where the title of the piece comes in: try as much as possible to catch her being good.            

In other words, ignore him when he is being bad and pay attention to him and lavish him with praise when he is being good. This sounds simple, but it is actually harder than it sounds. We are programmed to fix what is wrong, and a whiny, fretful kid can definitely disturb your peace. When he’s playing quietly you can go about your own business – read a book, do the laundry, go to the bathroom, whatever. When he’s being bad you stop what you were doing and attend to him. Turning this process around will take a lot of practice.           

First determine whether the ‘bad’ behavior is unsafe to your baby or anyone else. If not, ignore it. Don’t even make eye contact. As soon as she stops whining or crying or pushing her food on to the floor, look right at her, smile and say something like, ‘Oh what a good girl you are! I like it so much better when you are a happy, smiling girl.” Or – “Thank you very much for asking me in a nice voice. You have such a sweet voice when you are not whining.”             

If the behavior is unsafe, e.g., your toddler is pinching your baby’s cheek really hard, remove his hand, say something like, “No, that hurts the baby.” Say it firmly, but make as little eye contact as possible. When your toddler stops the behavior, take him on to your lap and thank him for being nice to the baby. Now you can also explain more about how pinching hurts, but in a calm, kind voice. See the difference? In time your baby will learn that he gets much more attention for being good than for being ‘bad’ and the not so nice behaviors will disappear.


Saralee Sky, M.A. has 30+ years of experience with children, as a mother and grand mother, as a therapist for abused children, as the director of three nonprofit agencies serving children, and as co-owner and manager of Womb To Grow, LLC and Babynut.com.  Babynut provides natural, organic and alternative products for pregnancy, adoption, childbirth, parenting, babies and toddlers.

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