My 14-month child old doesn’t obey!

“My 14-month old doesn’t obey. What can I do about it?”

I have the following suggestions:

1. Avoid the word “don’t”. Just remove it temporarily from your vocabularly. Instead, tell a child what she needs to do. For example, do NOT say, “Don’t throw your food on the floor.” Instead, try “Keep your food on the table.” If you give the child a normal (rather than sippy) cup, do NOT say, “Don’t spill your milk.” Instead, try “Hold your cup carefully.” Children at the age of 14-months create a picture based on what is said to them. When you use the word “don’t”, your sentence inevitably describes the behavior that is NOT desired. The 14-month old, however, forms of picture of that undesired behavior nonetheless. And he is not yet able to imagine alternatives and this can also create a feeling of uncertainly and anxiety. So keep your language positive: describe the behavior you want, not the behavior you don’t want!

2. Be clear with your words and do not ask questions if you want him to do something. For example, you can say “Peter, come to the sink to wash your hands.” If he doesn’t obey, you can go to him and take his hand gently and simply help him to do what you want him to do. If the child is busy playing with something, create a transition between his play and the action you want him to take. For example, you can discuss the beautiful tower he made, instruct him to put the very last block on the tower and then come with you to wash his hands. (This is also a useful strategy for preventing tantrums once the child turns two.)

3. Up to about 14 months, children require a very simple approach. For instance, if the child is engaging in activities that are not allowed (such as digging in the plant dirt, ripping pages in a book, or turning the television on and off), simply pick up the child and move her to a place in which play is allowed. Do not argue with the child with the idea that she understands your reasoned statements about plant dirt, ripping pages, and turning on the television being forbidden. Use direct action at these ages to enforce these boundaries and everyone will be happier.

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