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When Will Baby Understand "No"?

Baby keeps doing things and getting into stuff he shouldn’t, and saying no isn’t working yet. When should I expect it to?


Baby keeps doing things and getting into stuff he shouldn’t, and saying no isn’t working yet. When should I expect it to?

The Bump Expert

The very earliest baby can recognize or understand the meaning of "no" is at nine months. And even after that, it can take a lot of reminding. Here’s how to handle baby when he’s doing something he shouldn’t.

Distract. Baby pulling your hair or messing with the dog’s tail? Put him down, or take him to another room away from the dog. Show him a toy he’s allowed to play with, and he’ll probably forget all about the trouble he was causing.

Talk positively. Say baby’s hitting. Instead of just saying, “no hitting,” follow it up with what he should be doing: In a calm voice, say “gentle” while showing him how to touch, gently using your own hand.

Prevent. For infants and toddlers, negative behaviors can stem from frustration, being over-tired or a change in schedule. If something’s off today, know it’s prime time for trouble. Try to prevent it by putting baby down for a nap or keeping the dog behind the baby gate (and maybe put your hair in a ponytail).

Be consistent. Don’t laugh at the behavior even though it may be cute initially, because it sends mixed signals. Baby might want to do it more if it elicits a laugh. Some parents wonder if they should bite baby back or pull his hair to teach him that it hurts, but seriously don’t -- it would just send the wrong message!

Plus, more from The Bump:

10 Weird Toddler Behaviors (and Why They’re Normal)

Annoying Toddler Habits and How to Deal

What Baby’s Playing With That Isn’t Safe

Preeti Parikh, MD, pediatrician at Pediatrics of New York, Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Medical Director of Programming at

Q&A: When will baby understand no?

I wouldn't just use the word, "no" because I don't want that to be my baby's first word. I think it's better to say something positive or just use more specific directions.

rocket2japan |

Q&A: When will baby understand no?

I agree with all of the above. I usually say, "Be gentle with mommy" and then show him how to stroke my face/hair without hurting me. I think it's important to show them what they can do instead (and to give them loads of positive responses when they do something gently).

claradutton |

Q&A: When will baby understand no?

This is more of a question: My 22mth is hitting and doesnt really listen all that well. When I say no he laughs. When I say come hear he ignores me. I tried time out but he thinks its cool because now he can say corner and is excited. Is this the terrible twos? What can I do?

carrief27 |

Q&A: When will baby understand no?

We have had a similar problem. Our son (5 mo. yesterday) is interested in mom's hair, dad's hair (which is also long), and in the cat and the dog. I have simply taken the hair out of his hands (by inserting my finger to his grip and rolling outward against the thumb while saying, "Let go. We need to touch gently." Then we do a lot of "practice." When he expresses interest in the cat, dog, or my hair, I cup his hand in my hand and we stroke the hair in question saying, "nice touch. gentle. ZZ is such a nice boy. Thank you." Although he only turned 5 months yesterday, he seems to be getting it. He now reaches up while breastfeeding and strokes my hair with an open hand and smiles. -- I say it's never too early to verbalize. (For what it's worth, I also used to work as a behavioral specialist for non-verbal children and adults with autism, and we also stressed using terms for the behavior we wanted rather than what we didn't want.) I hope this helps someone!

brettski73 |

Q&A: When will baby understand no?

We are also working on that. I use the we do not pull hair or kick Mommy's hand. I then tru for a redirect to focus attention on another action. Sometimes it works sometimes not. I do know that my son responds to tone of voice. He seems to know when the word no is implied even when it is not used. The head butts are the hardest to redirect. He has the head control but if he is fusterated he seems to target my face with some good slams. If I can get him to focus on a toy or something else he usually stops.

Jester131 |

Q&A: When will baby understand no?

I'd be less concerned with baby's first word being "no" than I would be for my baby's safety. "No" is a short quick word that should get your baby's attention in an emergency. Say "no" and then explain why you said it. You'll be glad you did when baby is reaching for something harmful when just out of reach.

smokeyangel |

Q&A: When will baby understand no?

No is such a bad word to use. tons of my friends say now it's the only thing there 1 and a half or 2 yr old say. Some told me to use a different word. I say this. If you try to explain it in a way that your baby can understand then it's a good learning process. If my baby bits I of course say ouch! Then I tell her that hurts mama and please don't do that again. She was 5 months old when I started to explain this to her and took her off my boob when she bit. That only lasted till month 8 she would bit on and off. Now at month 9 she does not bit at all and has tons of teeth. I only said no twice and then caught myself. When I started to realize as I explained to her that it hurt she would look at me as if trying to understand me. Well she has it down now. She really does understand! She even tilts her head to the side a bit to let me know that she is taking in what I say and will not play bit on my boob while breastfeeding. I lover her so much and now we have an understanding that is way more then just saying NO to her.

zora33 |

Q&A: When will baby understand no?

No is a bad word to use? I'm sorry but, that is why there are so many poorly behaved children running around! We, as parents, cannot be afraid to discipline! Give me a break. For those that need a little help with getting their lo to understand, don't just say no, say no while taking their hands in yours and look them in the eye and use a stern voice. They will understand and if you do it, you won't need to use it often and therefor it won't be your childs first word! It can't just be - no no, no no hunny - please! That soooo doesn't work! My first son is 16 now, his first word was not "no" and perfect strangers used to stop me literally in the street and in restaurants and thank me for such a well behaved little boy that LISTENS! I NEVER had a problem with him because I wasn't afraid to discipline early on. If a child's first word is no, then they are hearing it too often which means it is being used ineffectively.

jarobinson |