Expert Interview: Barack Levin, Part 2

Our expert today is Barack Levin, a stay at home Dad and author of The Diaper Chronicles. Barack’s book is all about raising independent and well behaved children, based on his experiences. Today’s post is the second in a series of two on child proofing.

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Why “child proofing” is actually bad for your baby – Part II

So what is the better alternative to “child proofing” the house? More shiny, new products or gadgets?

No.

Really, the alternative is “no.”

I strongly believe that there is a better way to make my child learn safety on his own. It is an active system that will always work and teach the baby to avoid such hazards and it is much more natural than passively childproofing a house. Removing all potential dangers also removes chances for exploration, discovery, curiosity, and imagination. Those who childproof their homes tend to assume that children are incapable of even the most basic logical thinking. I want to believe that before kids try something new and dangerous, they will be able compare situations with those which they are already familiar with and analyze their approach.

Does that mean you should leave your kid alone in the kitchen for an hour with a set of steak knives, a bottle of bleach, and a blender? Of course it doesn’t. It means that you know you don’t have to hover over him every second “protecting” him from life. I think that a parent can reach a point where if you open a door and show the naturally-curious child around and tell him that what’s behind the door is dangerous and a “big no-no,” he will understand and find objects of interest elsewhere. Therefore, I have decided and recommend adopting an approach I call “The Power of No.”

The Power of No is simple. It teaches the child that certain things or items in the house are simply off limits for him. The idea is to give the child a verbal and visual cue that tells him that certain things are forbidden and dangerous. I don’t just say “no” all day long to everything. The Power of No loses its power if it is overused. The idea is to keep your baby out of harm’s way and at the same time to let him use his natural sense of exploration; so you should invoke The Power of No only when there is danger.

The challenge, of course, is figuring out how to teach a baby that has just started crawling what he can play with and what he can never touch. You need to create or wait for the right opportunity but here is a good example on how it can be done.

Let’s say your baby crawls towards some electric cables he sees lying on the floor. Just as he is preparing to lift his hand to touch the cords, and he is clearly focused on the task at hand, you say his name out loud in a very clear voice and add “No”. For example: “Jake, No” while looking directly at him. You use this combination of words for two reasons. One, calling his name so he knows you are talking directly to him. Two, saying only “No” because it is short, distinct, and unambiguous—to get to the point. At the very same moment you pronounce these words, also give him a visual cue – wagging your finger from side to side—the “No-No” gesture. Now your kid received both verbal and visual signals for The Power of No.

Your kid will recognize his name—and your tone. He will most likely pause and look back at you. There is almost no chance that he will understand what you want, so get ready for him to go back to his plaything. You will go again through the same exercise just to find out that he completely ignores you and touches the cords. As he does, approach him and tap the hand that touches the cord, very lightly but still with enough force to let him understand something is not right and give him again the visual and verbal signals: “Jake, No”.

Most chances he will be puzzled but still will try to do his thing, so you will need to go through several cycles of touching and tapping. I always suggest increasing the force of the tapping on his hand but only to a degree of discomfort to your child, never to hurt, harm or as a means of a punishment. You only want to draw his attention that something is wrong and mommy is using some unconventional actions to get to him.

If you are persistent and repetitive, eventually when you tell him no, he will actually withdraw his hand. At this point, when he finally understands what you want from him, make sure to shower him with love, hugs and kisses, praise him and give him as much positive feedback as possible. He needs to understand that this is what you wanted from him and that you are happy about it. This is the first step towards teaching him the Power of No and from this point onward, it is up to you to continue using it when it is needed. Good luck.

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What are your thoughts? Will you try the power of no?

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9 comments

  1. I think the power of no goes along way, but I still believe baby proofing can help. Or maybe toddler proofing. Here's a recent scenario at our house: one of my daughters got up to use the bathroom. I happened to be going up the steps to go to bed at this time. She was still essentially asleep and staggered toward the steps… without a gate at the top of the steps she would have tumbled down the steps. As I commented after reading "part 1," baby proofing can become obsessive, but I still believe there are certain steps we must take to protect our children.

  2. When you have multiple youngsters that are mobile and into everything, some childproofing is needed to keep them safe.

    I agree that people can go overboard childproofing a house and that we cannot say "No, don't touch that" 1 million times a day and that is why I believe some childproofing is the best way to go.

    Our household has very little childproofing, but that which is there is there for good reason.

  3. I agree that you have to teach your child 'no' and that there are rules in the house, but I have triplets. Come on! I can't watch them all the time just waiting for them to reach for something they shouldn't so I can tell them no. We will be child proofing our house so that they can play and explore their world. The power of no will still work at other people's houses or when they still get into something they shouldn't, but at least this way I can leave them to get something done in the house while they play safely.

  4. I would like to know if this author has multiples? I do believe firmly in telling a child NO to keep them safe, but it is a different story when you are talking about multiples.

    We did very little childproofing with my oldest two singleton children and taught them safety with a firm NO.

    Now I have 15 month old twin boys and although I do still use the firm NO policy, we have had to have MUCH more childproofing to keep them SAFE. Not to make them unaware of their surroundings, but to keep them from being harmed.

    There is a big difference between childproofing with no communication to the child, and childproofing with communication.

  5. Great interview. I agree that we need to tell them No but is hard when you have multiples and need to follow them.

  6. Thanks for the interview. We try to have a happy medium between child-proofing and teaching. But with active 1-yr-old twins, a 4 and 6 year old and a household to run, precautions must be taken. Slowly the twins are learning to not pull all the books off the shelves and to not climb on the table. It's a long process.

  7. I think the Power of No has been left out of child rearing for too many years and believe it is an essential part of teaching kids that they can't have or do everything they want. Yes, some basic safety precautions are needed, like gates at the stairs, window shade cord placement (DUH!), and locking up chemicals. But, our society reflects a greater problem that has been manifested in the whole label-the-heck-out-of-everything and if someone gets hurt call a lawyer then the ambulance because people have grown up without boundaries.

    AMEN to the power of no. And to the power of positive reinforcement where it is deserved.

  8. This is the track we've tried to take with our girls. We babyproofed the most dangerous objects, and used "No" combined with hand-tapping to keep them out of other off-limit areas. For the most part, the girls have learned well, and I'm thankful we haven't had to babyproof everything, so they learn to internalize limits, and so I don't have to struggle getting those silly locks off of everything! 🙂
    -Emily (www.myfaithandjoy.com)

  9. I like the power of No and we are using it as much as possible. But once in a while, I need to do things like …. go to the bathroom… and as a single parent of twins, I need to know they are safe for the 5 minutes or so I'm out of the room. So I have one place that is very baby safe that I can leave them. The rest of the place is for learning.
    I have locked up cleaners etc, because lets face it. With twins, I can be repeatedly doing No with one twin about the electric cord while the other twin has wandered away and is opening cupboards.
    No works, but with multiples, we need more.

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