How to Know What Freedoms to Give Baby

How to Know What Freedoms to Give Baby. Understanding the concept of freedoms and knowing how to respond when baby tests those limits. 

Toddler walking down the sidewalk

The idea of freedoms is talked about in the second Babywise book. I found this to be a difficult concept for me to grasp onto as a first time mother, and have found that to be true of many other mothers. When I was reading On Becoming Babywise Book 2 for my second child, the concept was not difficult and made a lot of sense. In this post, I try to explain it in my own words to help you grasp the concept if you, too, are having difficulty understanding what freedoms are.

Understanding the Concept of Freedoms

The freedoms are referred to in the parenting in the funnel section (pp. 32-37) in On Becoming Babywise Book 2 (buy your copy of Babywise Book 2 here-Affiliate link). You only allow freedoms your children are developmentally ready for (both physically and mentally). It can be an abstract idea for you to grasp when you are looking at your 4 month old and wondering how it applies to him.

I had a hard time thinking of freedoms I should or shouldn’t be allowing Brayden (my first). A lot of it is pretty intuitive, though. Basically what you don’t want to do is allow the child to do whatever they want to. There is a popular technique of allowing babies and children to explore everything they can get their hands on in order to learn. This is also a concept that some teachers are embracing in the classroom.

The problem I see with this is that it doesn’t give the children direction; it doesn’t give them structure or goals. They just freely explore and kind of learn by trial and error, or you could even say they learn by accident. While there is a place for trial and error, I also think it is important to set guidelines and give instruction and show the child the path they should be on.

When you have to learn to do something that is difficult for you, do you want to learn by trying to figure it out yourself, or do you want an expert to explain it to you? While I am a person who enjoys figuring stuff out myself, I do prefer some instruction when I can get it. We all differ in whether we want our information written, verbal, or shown to us, but as a species we are smart enough to realize we can learn more from information than our own mistakes. A smart man learns from his mistakes, but a truly wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

As a parent you don’t have very long before peers start to have more weight than you do. You want to teach your children the morals you want to instill in them from the beginning. The free exploration is kind of the premise in the book Parenting with Love and Logic, and the main quibble I have with it. The book has some good ideas, and I think these ideas can apply well once your child has been taught the right thing to do. The theory is big on consequences and the agency of your child. But it doesn’t discuss doing this age appropriately or giving them the guidelines in the first place. Age appropriate freedoms are so important to the development of your child.

With young babies, the biggest thing we as parents can do to allow appropriate freedoms is to not put them into situations that they will learn to expect but can’t developmentally handle yet. When Brayden was a young baby, I let him play with my cell phone. He would chew on it, slobbered it, and it eventually ruined my phone (duh!).

He then had a great expectation to be able to play with my cell phone months after that one phone got destroyed (I had learned my lesson and stopped him from playing with it around 5 months). Teaching him my cell phone was off limits to the point that he had respect for that took until he was at least 18 months old. This isn’t because he is stubborn or disobedient, it is because I allowed it to happen in the first place. He now does not touch it unless I tell him to. He doesn’t ask for it.

I am a smarter mother now, and Kaitlyn, my second child, does not play with my phone, even if I were to sit there and make sure she didn’t slobber it. And she wants it. She tries to get it every time she sees it. Although I could refrain her from ruining it, it is something she won’t be capable of using appropriately for a long, long time. If I allow her to play with it now, she will continue to want it into an age where she could pick it up and chuck it or lose it or destroy it…So yes, she still wants it even though I don’t allow it, but she doesn’t throw a fit when she doesn’t get it. She reaches, I move it, and she looks for something else to go after.

There are a lot of things you can give your baby or allow them to do right now because they can’t do a lot of damage, but they will be able to do damage really fast and sooner than you think. Don’t give them things or put them places that will soon be off limits. It makes them happy, but there are plenty of other, safer things you can give them that will make them just as happy (measuring cups, etc.).

To accomplish this idea of freedoms and parenting in the funnel, you might need to evaluate each room in the home. What in that room are you going to be okay with your baby playing with? What won’t you? Decide now before your baby makes his move for something. This brings up the idea of baby proofing. You should remove things that are extremely dangerous to your baby, but you shouldn’t have to have your house completely void of decorations or nice things. You can teach your baby not to touch.

This past Christmas season I noticed a lot of friends who decorated only the top half their Christmas tree. They did this in order to keep their kids away from the ornaments. In my house, I have had the whole tree decorated every year. Yes, I have had to explain to Brayden the last two years not to play with the ornaments and not to remove them, but he respected that and everything was fine. I allowed him two ornaments he could take off and move around as he pleased.

So be prepared with what you will and won’t let baby play with. The better you have it from the beginning, the easier it will be. You can always add freedoms easily, but it can be hard to take them away. You will probably make mistakes, especially the first time around, but do your best. And don’t let that cute little smile waver your resolve! Remember, baby will get more destructive and will be less likely to give it up once he has it.

Before your baby is mobile, there aren’t a lot of restrictions you have to impose. A lot of them would be restrictions on yourself. Don’t give baby something you don’t want baby using long term. A 4 month old can look cute with the remote, but what about a 2 year old? Keep it in mind.

Some early freedoms I have found with my children is during mealtimes. I don’t allow hands near the face while eating solids. I don’t allow spoon grabbing or bowel grabbing. It is something I enforce until they feed themselves. Other things to consider are spitting and playing with toys. What do you allow? Decide.

Remember, things can change over time, but you want them to change into more freedoms, not less.

Once baby is mobile, you start to allow freedoms on where they are allowed to go, what they are allowed to touch, etc. I have a room in my house that my 2.5 year old still has very little freedom in. He walks through it several times a day all day, but it has many things in it he isn’t allowed to touch. It isn’t a big deal for him. That is the way it has always been.

You can easily see the frustration a baby has with freedoms he isn’t ready for by looking at toys. If you give your baby a toy that is older than his age range, he will likely get really frustrated, and quickly. He just can play with it the way it is intended. You can try to show him how, but he isn’t physically ready for it and that can be even more frustrating for him. He can also break it or choke on it if it is out of his age range. Conversely, if you give a child a toy too young for him, he can easily become frustrated and bored, and therefore start acting up.

How to Respond When Baby Disobeys

When your baby does something he shouldn’t, what do you do? This is what I do. I say, “That’s a no” as suggested in On Becoming Babywise Book 2. I love that phrase and still use it with the 2.5 year old. I have a somber look on my face. If baby continues (and believe me, there will be many times he does), I tell him “That’s a no” and remove him from the situation. That seems to do it for my babies. Toddlers are a whole new game, but I will talk about that in a later post.

When baby obeys you (and he will often times), praise him. Even if it seems to have been by accident. Thank baby, tell baby he is a good boy for obeying Mama and that you are proud of him. There are more ideas for discipline in On Becoming Babywise Book 2. Take those ideas and your own and create something that works for your child. People are motivated differently, and you will need to figure you own child out. Take the time to do it. Put in the effort. It will pay off big time in the toddler years.

Remember to start young. By the time Brayden was 12 months old, he obeyed me more than 90% of the time. That is far better than the numbers outlined in Toddlerwise. Perhaps he is really obedient by nature, but I did start instructing him at 8 months. If there is nothing in the reach of your child that you object to him playing with, create something. You want opportunities for learning. Don’t do too many, and don’t do too few.

On Becoming Babywise Book 2If you do this, you will be able to take your toddler to friend’s houses and be able to verbally instruct what is allowed and what isn’t. There will be times he isn’t obedient–they all have their days–but for the most part you will be pleased and your friends will be shocked.

Finally, on a religious note, I have another way for you to think of free exploration vs. instruction and restriction. When I am making decisions for my children and how to parent, I try to emulate the Lord. I think of how He is a as a parent to us and try to be that way toward my children. He gives us agency and allows us to make decisions–He doesn’t interfere with our agency. But He also doesn’t rescue us from our decisions; we must deal with the consequences.

He also, however, teaches us what to do. He gives us lessons and instruction on how we should be; He also gives us commandments. He gives us examples of people who have chosen right and wrong in the scriptures so that we can hopefully learn from their mistakes rather than going through it ourselves. He didn’t put us down here and say, “Good luck. See what you can figure out. Hope you are smart enough to make it!” He showed us love and mercy and gave us knowledge to help us learn the way we should be.

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Reader Questions:

  • Firecracker said…
    Hi there! So my son is now 7 months old and the last 2 weeks he has gotten a huge attitude. He whines all the time. He whines if either of us leave the room, he whines if he is doing tummy time and wants to be picked up. And it’s not just happening a few times a day. It happens several times an hour. He has plenty of toys that we interchange. We instill independent playtime. So I don’t know what the issue is. Whenever he tends to this this whine thing, I tell him “Thats enough, no more” But he continues and he’ll even grin while he fake cries. So I guess my question is how am I supposed to react and how do I get it to end. I keep thinking ahead to how it’ll be when he is 2 if he keeps this up and I want to pull my hair out. BTW I called my pediatrician for advise and he said it was a phase, which I do not agree with. Also my son is not crawling. So mobility and freedom is not the issue. Thank you so much for your help.Danielle
    June 26, 2008 12:04 PM
    Plowmanators said…
    I would guess there is some reason for it. My guess would be it is either separation anxiety, teething, or sickness.He could also be frustrated because he wants to move but can’t yet. Your reaction will have to depend on the reason he is doing it. Obviously if it is a sickness or teething, you want to comfort him. If it is separation anxiety, you would want to address that (which might mean wait for it to end).
    June 27, 2008 11:33 PM
How to Know What Freedoms to Give Baby. Understanding the concept of freedoms and knowing how to respond when baby tests those limits.

5 thoughts on “How to Know What Freedoms to Give Baby”

  1. I just found your blog and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it. I am a first time mommy to a nearly 7 month old little boy. I have taken a multi-faceted approach to being mommy. No one theory has lined up perfectly with all of my instincts. But I do think a great deal of babywise. My question is, is it too late to start babywise now???? Thanks so much.

  2. It is never too late to start! People start apply principles from day one on up into gradeschool age (and possibly older, I just know of people who have done it with grade school age children). I think the main points of BW really fall further down the line with your toddlers and children. You lay the foundation with good sleep habits and eating habits as a baby, then are able to really work on teaching morals and training your child to have a good heart in the toddler years and beyond.

  3. Hello… I am a 1st time "babywise" mom… applying principles since birth… my daughter is turning 1 in a week. And for a week or so she has turned from sweet little angel to terriable 2's(a year early of course). Everything has changed, I know it could be teething, eye teeth look rips, and 1 year molars come around this time… or allergys with it being harvest time, but with all of this she has cut most of her naps by half, from 1.5-2.5 hours down to .5-1 hr… do I keep her in the crib for her normal 2 hours? Have her CIO? Up multiple times in the night… when do I stop comforting because of teething in the night… and have her CIO? I dont want it to become a habit but it's been a week and a half now and I am sure partially her waking up is habit, however she's super fussy in the day and so it could be teeth… I feel like I could blame everything that ever happens on her teeth… how do I know I am still applying BW principles with there always beeing somthing else that is playing into it. Also would anyone be willing to share some of the 1 year limitations? I totally agree with the cell phone,remotes, and the newspaper, what about kitchen stoves?- How are you discipling when baby is disobeying, or throwing a fit? Crib time? (will she then associate it with discipline and then not want to nap?) Telling baby No? (That only seems to make her more mad!) How do you stop the SCREAMING fits? I would like to see others examples of what they found was in the "funnel" of the 1year limitations! Interested in all the input! Thanks so much! ~blessings

  4. Jes, If this is uncommon for her, I would comfort her until the pain is gone. When Kaitlyn gets teeth and is upset easily, I always worry this is her new personality 🙂 But it isn't; it is just temporary during the pains. I wouldn't let a child play with the stove ever. There is a post called the mini-fit that will answer your questions. Also, if you want lots of ideas from lots of moms, join the yahoo group–linked at the top of this page in the welcome message.

  5. I have a 16 month-old daughter who is pretty easy going and very social. She also loves to eat! At home, I usually limit her to meals and 1-2 snacks. However, when we're around other people with food, she is always asking them for their food. (she does use the word please though!) I know she does it partially for the social interaction as well as the food, but sometimes she will end up eating almost all of the snacks another parent brought for her own kid because that parent is so generous. This is particularly a problem at church. I always bring our own snacks when we're out because I know this will be a problem, but typically she wants little to do with our snacks if someone else has snacks, no matter how unusual it is, or even if it's the same thing. Other parents are so nice and don't want to turn her down because she's so cute when she asks, but it gets a little excessive and embarrassing sometimes. I'm not sure where to draw the line here – do I allow her to ask for one and then stop her there? Can she understand a concept like that or will it just seem like sometimes she can and sometimes she can't? Any suggestions as to what the appropriate freedoms for her age here might be? Thanks!


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