Parents can support baby's learning as they explore their world by making home a safe space, creating a family code, and being consistent.

At this time, babies are becoming more mobile, curious and keen to explore what they can grab and mouth.

Baby isn’t trying to annoy their parents — they’re driven to explore because they’re curious and motivated by their developing brain, which is telling them to move and to learn about and make sense of their environment. So, the role of the whānau needs to change too. The challenge is finding ways that baby can explore safely.

Make home a ‘yes’ environment

Making home a ‘Yes’ environment will make it safer for baby and reduce the number of times parents have to say ‘No!’ One way is by making sure baby has a variety of interesting and safe objects to explore. Suitable items can be found in most homes, and don’t have to cost a lot. They might include:

  • balls and other things that roll
  • boxes and other containers
  • plastic and metal bowls and pots of different sizes
  • spoons and other safe kitchen implements
  • pegs (without springs, which can pinch little fingers or become a choking hazard if they come off)
  • blocks – especially wooden blocks that can be stacked easily (these are often found in second-hand shops)
  • smaller items for putting in and taking out of containers – check their size for safety (anything that could fit inside a paper towel tube is too small)
  • books – these can be homemade, or borrowed from the library.

Set a family code

It’s also a good idea to set a few limits for keeping baby safe that everyone in the family can support. These might be called the family code or guidelines, and are about helping baby to learn – not about punishing them for doing what comes naturally at this stage. The family code needs everyone’s agreement because baby will copy what they see others do (rather than what they are told to do).

The code might include:

  • Gentle touching, no hitting, scratching or biting people or pets.
  • Hair is for brushing, not pulling.
  • Chairs are for sitting on, not standing.
  • ‘Nana’s glasses’, not for baby.
  • The word ‘stop’ is used when baby is moving to touch something that’s not okay.

The limits or family code are expressed as things to do, rather than don’ts — because this is how a baby learns best. Words like ‘don’t’ and ‘no’ are not helpful but calmly saying what you want to see is.

Following through

Great parenting requires wise supervision, and parents and whānau need to act whenever baby doesn’t follow the limits. It’s very easy for parents to stay in their seats and give baby instructions from the couch (perhaps getting more and more annoyed as baby ignores them), until finally they get angry, get up and then (at last) move baby away. From this, baby may be learning that ‘I just keep repeating what interests me until somebody comes and moves me’.

How baby learns best

A baby learns best when parents are loving and consistent. There’s no reason why their tone of voice has to get loud or angry. Being consistent is the key, and it can be done in a nurturing way. Saying what they mean (for example, ‘Gentle!’) if baby grabs the cat’s tail, and then showing baby how to pat the cat gently. If baby grabs the cat again, move them away from the cat straight away (this shows baby that their parents mean what they say) and do this every time.

Repetition and being consistent

Always staying loving and consistent can feel like hard work some days, especially if baby keeps testing those limits. Understanding that babies learn through repetition may help parents to cope on those rough days. Through their warm and consistent responses, they’ll help keep baby safe, keep precious items safe, and encourage peace in the family. This is the start of positive discipline and of great caregiving and supervision.