Moral Training: Start Early

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The fact that your baby doesn’t have a moral understanding as to why she shouldn’t do certain things does not mean that you should allow her to do those things or that we should withhold correction when she does those things (On Becoming Babywise, page 29).

Around 5-7 months, your child will start to do things that you don’t want her to do. Many parents worry that she is too young to do anything about it. They don’t want to expect too much of their young baby. It is good to apply proper expectations to our children, but generally speaking, we expect less of them than they can give. If you are the oldest child parenting your oldest child who is a toddler, there is a good chance your expectations will be too high, but for most, expectations are low for babies.

Part of this is probably due to the fact that society accepts this behavior in young babies, even thinking it is cute. Okay, I know, it is cute. When your little baby blows her first raspberry while eating, your first reaction is to laugh. It is fun to see personality emerging from your baby. Let me offer some advice: when your baby does something that is really cute and funny, but you know it is something you don’t want to see again, go ahead and laugh, but hide your face, walk out of the room, whatever it takes so baby does not see this is something that amuses you. Baby loves to entertain. She will be confused if what was once so cute is now forbidden.

Babywise II points out that while adults turn to their beliefs before acting, babies just act. Actions precede beliefs (page 29). You need to first teach your child how to act morally, then when he is ready (in the toddler years), you start to teach moral concepts.

You baby is not too young to start to learn how to patiently wait for something (like food). If you have been applying Babywise principles from the beginning, she might already be good at this. If not, she should be able to learn quickly. You can start to teach how to sign so she can learn to communicate needs rather than have fits to communicate her needs (see sign language ).

Most moral training before baby is mobile seems to happen in the highchair. Come up with your rules before your baby gets the idea for trying things. She might not ever try it. For example, raspberries were not okay with me. Brayden never tried it. Kaitlyn did one day and loved it. Try to think through possible problems you will encounter so you know how you feel about it before baby tries it. Some things will never cross your mind until baby does it though. For more on highchair manners, see Baby Highchair Manners: .

If your baby is not your first, be especially mindful. It can be hard to find the balance of proper expectations when it isn’t your first child. For one thing, baby seems young. She is so much younger than her siblings and we can often not realize we are expecting far less of her than we did her older sister at that age. We can also expect more than we should, putting our children on more even playing fields. We might not want older sister to feel picked on that baby isn’t expected to do things the same way. We need to work to parent each child as the individual she is, not based on the emotions of the other siblings.

I want to share a moral training example I have experienced. For most things, I am sure I lean on the side of expecting too much from Brayden. I am an oldest, he is an oldest…I do try to be ever conscious of it, but with him, I am always a first-time parent. Kaitlyn showed us, though, that there is something we had too low of expectations for him on. That is prayer.

We always said prayer with Brayden. We said it before bed and before each meal from the first bite he ever took. But we didn’t apply proper expectations for his behavior. One night as we were about to say family prayer, 15 month old Kaitlyn went to my husband as he was on his knees and told him to fold his arms, close his eyes, and bow his head. I was shocked. I realized if 15 month old Kaitlyn knew these were the proper steps before a prayer, 3 year old Brayden could be expected to do all of them. We expected him to fold his arms, but that was it. We had taught him the other steps, but hadn’t enforced them yet. For a few months, they were on the same “level of performance” during a prayer. Currently, Brayden is beyond Kaitlyn, which is appropriate given the two year gap. He has responded well. Every so often he starts trying to tell Kaitlyn what to do (“close your eyes Kaitlyn”) during a prayer, or after a prayer is over he informs us what Kaitlyn didn’t do right, to which we remind him that it means he didn’t do things right either.

Starting early makes training much easier later on. For one thing, you don’t have to re-train. For another, they are quite willing to obey as a younger child. Don’t expect 100% perfection and consistency. That isn’t reasonable. But you can strive for 100% perfection and consistency in yourself so that your child will be as good as possible.

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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Cindy
    February 10, 2009 / 1:56 PM

    This was a ‘perfect timing’ post for me today!! I’ve been reading Baby Wise 2 and working with my 7 month old daughter on high chair manners. I’ve been talking with my husband on manners and what to expect, even at this age – not just in the high chair. Your examples really help me to understand the application of it. Thanks!

  2. bradysmom
    February 10, 2009 / 4:33 PM

    This was a great post! Thank you. I only wish more people thought this way 🙂

  3. susanne
    February 10, 2009 / 7:24 PM

    Thank you for writing about this topic. I just started to read baby wise II and felt that the book only just touched this topic. Your examples and expansion on this topic really helps me to better understand how to apply this with my own son! Thanks Val:)

  4. Plowmanators
    February 12, 2009 / 9:06 PM

    You are welcome Cindy! I am glad I could help clarify.

  5. Plowmanators
    February 12, 2009 / 9:06 PM

    Thanks Bradysmom! You are welcome 🙂

  6. Plowmanators
    February 12, 2009 / 9:07 PM

    You are welcome Susanne! I am always able to babble on about a topic 😉

  7. Tiffany
    April 14, 2010 / 5:19 PM

    I just wanted to pass along a book that talks alot about disciplining kids and how to help them become better people. "Parenting by the Book" by John Rosemond. It has been a great book! and goes along with alot of the babywise philosophies. I have really enjoyed it. It has also helped me to rethink how I deal with my SPED 5th and 6th graders I teach.

  8. Plowmanators
    April 29, 2010 / 10:28 PM

    Thanks Tiffany! I have heard good things about that book.

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