Babies are basically never told “no” until they begin crawling. For four or seven or ten months (or however many months it takes until they learn to crawl), they are allowed to do pretty much anything they want because, well, they can’t go anywhere and can’t really get into much trouble. They are given toys that are allowed to go in their mouths and they are picked up and put down in the appropriate place when they need to move locations. But once they’re crawling — oh man — their world suddenly shifts from being a world of “yes” to a world of “no”.
“No! Don’t grab that!”
“No! Don’t crawl over there!”
“No! Don’t eat Mommy’s shoe!”
“No! Don’t suck on the end of that electrical cord!”
“No! No! NO!”
Wouldn’t you be frustrated if you were them? How are they supposed to learn and explore if practically everything they do is met with a resounding “NO!”?
Create a “yes” space.
Create a space in your home where you can say “yes” to everything in it. It doesn’t have to be huge. It just has to be safe and accessible for your little explorer. This is a concept I learned in a parent-infant class led by child development expert Laura Sobell, and it has forever changed the way I set up play spaces for babies.
Consider this example:
The baby can do anything he wants in this space and it’s okay. Nothing is off limits here. Of course, as your baby becomes more adept at overcoming barriers (such as the pillow blocking the toy box and electrical cords at the top left corner of the photo), you will have to change up your space so it is a better match for your child’s skill level. Take it day by day and allow him to show you what sorts of barriers are appropriate for his current level.
Now, I’m not saying you can never say “no” to your baby. That would be absurd. Babies (and children, for that matter) need to learn boundaries and how to follow directions. So go ahead and tell baby “no” or “stop” or “danger” or “uh-oh” or whatever word it is you choose to be your boundary word when baby starts to do something they need to learn not to do (remember those electrical cords and mommy’s shoe?).
But when that little one is in the “yes” space, she can freely explore and crawl and pull to stand and cruise and do whatever her little heart desires. We got this idea from a parent-infant education class and have come to affectionately call this space “the arena”. Our baby wrestles his stuffed animals and manhandles his toys in there. Seems fitting.
A few people I’ve talked to who created “yes” spaces for their babies back in the day (whether they knew they were doing it or not) have commented that their little ones grew to become very good at keeping themselves occupied and entertained as they got older. Not a very scientific method of data collection, I know, but it’s still something to keep in mind!
Please make sure your “yes” space is safe for baby and you can easily supervise when necessary. If you put a mirror in your “yes” space, it makes it much easier to keep an eye on them if you’re, say, in the kitchen washing dishes. You may have to think creatively depending on how your living space is set up. If you have hard floors, you may have to invest in some interlocking foam play mats to prevent hard bonks to the head when your little one inevitably takes a mini tumble while exploring. If your living room isn’t set up in a way that naturally encourages this sort of independence, consider looking into getting some play yard gates that will be big enough to encourage mobility but small enough to not take over your entire living room. Check out discount places like Ross, your local used toy store, or Craigslist/garage sales to find what you need without breaking the bank. Like I said, think creatively, brainstorm with another person, and make it happen.
Be nearby and available for your baby so he or she can “check in” with you (remember Connor’s guest post about attuning to your child?) every so often. You don’t want to ignore them. Rather, you’re giving them space and tools to expand on their growing independence, and they will likely want to visually reference you or come over and give you a quick snuggle before crawling back over to their play area and resuming whatever it was they were doing.
So create a “yes” space for your baby and see what happens when he or she is allowed to explore freely. It’s a win-win for everyone!