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Is my 15-month-old too young to understand “No”?
Q: I need help teaching my 15-month-old son “no.” He doesn't understand that no means no, do not touch, do not do. He will not listen to anyone, including his father. I work full time, but my son is home with his father all day long and doesn't go to daycare. When he was 10 months old he developed a disease called Mastoiditis. We have had many follow-up appointments with the ENT and he can’t find any long-term problems with my son’s hearing. Still, I am concerned; he doesn't seem to hear me or his father when we try to discipline him. Could he have a hearing problem after all? Or, is the problem that he should be interacting more with other children? Or is he just still too young to understand?
A: I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong except expecting him to respond to “No” too early and too quickly. It doesn’t just happen with one or two repetitions. Right now, walking and doing things on his own are very important to him—chances are, he is in motion a good bit of the time. Those are good signs of developmental progress that you don’t want to squelch. At your son’s age, words need to be strengthened with action. Every time you say “No,” try to get down on his level and put your arms on his and keep them at his side briefly. Repeat your “No” and name the forbidden object: “No, you may not have mummy’s billfold (or whatever).” Then be sure to give those busy little hands something else to hold and manipulate. In time, the word “no” will come to stand for the entire sequence. Finally, make absolutely certain that he doesn’t have a hearing loss. That will need to be checked repeatedly as he gets older.