Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Training a Baby

Babies come into the world brand new, innocent, knowing only the basic instincts of sucking, crying, and blinking at their new, bright surroundings. We are amazed at their tiny toes and fingers, the shock of peachfuzz on their heads, and their clear eyes as they look into our own. They begin to smile long before than can hold their heads up and they learn to recognize the scent of their mothers almost immediately.

Newborn babies cry instinctively; this is their only way to alert us to their needs, be it hunger, discomfort, or a soiled diaper. But it doesn't take long at all - a few weeks, maybe a month or two, for a tiny baby to learn how to use his cries. By six months of age, many babies will cry out for their mother or father and protest if left in the arms of someone else. By seven or eight months of age, most babies are well aware of their ability to grab and hold some off-limits object in their chubby fists, only to have a responsible adult take it from them. When this happens, if another more interesting item is not right at hand, the baby will often scream and complain about the huge injustice of it all. We chuckle and simply remove them from the scene of the crime, but this is the perfect opportunity to begin formal training.

Babies of this age understand a few things: they understand hunger, discomfort, physical contact, and the sight of the people who love them. Babies of seven or eight months are not concerned with the greater good in the world or even the greater good of their parents, other than how it pertains to their own full bellies and entertainment. Babies, though adorable and precious, are completely and utterly selfish individuals who want what they want when they want it.

Since we can't reason with small babies or teach them the logic in not pulling books off the shelves, we must find another way. Lengthy (or even short) explanations about the dangers of putting knives in ones mouth will go ignored and open doors or swimming pools are simply beckoning our babies - and they will respond if we don't train them.

Training a baby is simple. If a baby crawls near a fireplace and feels the heat, he will instinctively back up and crawl the other way. If a baby puts a battery in his mouth, he will feel the shock, cry, and remember not to do it again. If a baby reaches out and touches a hot stove, he will draw his tiny hand back in pain and avoid the stove from now on. Now, babies may not remember every time, but pain has a way of imprinting in the memories of even the tiniest people. But we don't want to burn our babies or shock them with batteries. A simple slap to the back of the hand will suffice.

Now before you begin telling me about the ills of corporal punishment and child abuse, let me assure you, this is not abuse, this is not even discipline. This is training. When a dog is trained, we put it on a leash and guide it to and fro. When a horse is trained, we put a bit in its mouth and teach it to respond to our commands. For the safety of a baby, unless we plan to keep him constantly in our arms or forever locked in the playpen, we must train him.

If your baby is crawling regularly and you don't want him to touch a certain shelf of books, do not wait until he destroys something precious to you and then slap him on the hand to punish him. He won't understand at all. Instead, begin by taking the baby to the bookcase for a training session. Talk to him and praise him for being such a good, smart baby. When Junior ultimately reaches out for the books in question, firmly say "no" and slap his hand. You don't want to hurt him, just give him a little sting that will get his attention. A soft slap on a diapered bottom won't work, and even a slap with your hand may not cut it. Usually a rap with a ruler or pencil will give enough bite but won't really hurt him. Do it with a smile - you aren't mad at your baby and he has done nothing wrong - it is a training session. Show him the book and say "no" again. If he reaches out for it again, again slap his little hand. After a couple of times, take him somewhere else and plan to come back later for another training session. After just a few times, you will be able to leave your baby in the room with the books and he will crawl past them, remembering on some level, that discomfort is associated with those books.

This training method can be used for nearly anything in any area. Protect your baby by training him early, and you will have a happy, safe home.

Paulla Estes

No comments: