Even before my determined baby grandson Xavier could crawl, he’d wiggle and squirm his way across the floor to get the toy he wanted—or to reach the cat food dish we didn’t want him to touch. Most babies can be distracted with a toy or treat. Not Xavier. If he has his heart set on unplugging the lamp, he’ll just keep heading back to it, no matter how many times you take him out of the room and try to tempt him with a fire truck or muffin.
That’s one determined baby.
Fleur Bickford knows what it’s like. Her daughter Sarah, now three, started walking at nine months and “very quickly progressed to running,” says Bickford. And Sarah seemed to see her mom’s attempts at babyproofing as just another challenge. “We had to get locks for the fridge and all the cabinets, but it wouldn’t take her long to figure out how to get around them. Once I went upstairs and when I came back, she had gotten eggs out of the fridge and was cracking them on the coffee table.”
Sarah saw chairs as stepping stones to help her get onto counters and other high places. Bickford used bungee cords to attach the kitchen chairs to the table legs so Sarah couldn’t pull them out and climb up. But that only worked until Sarah figured out how to undo the cords.
Determined babies also tend to want to do things themselves. Xavier was never into spoon-feeding—he wanted to hold the spoon himself and pick up the food with his fingers. Bickford says Sarah’s thing was dressing herself, and she’d dissolve into tears if someone tried to help.
So how did the Bickfords manage their determined daughter?
1. Close supervision is essential
Determined babies often seem to be just waiting for the moment when your back is turned, or you’re in the bathroom, to carry out their plan of attack and get into something you’d rather they did not touch. “I quickly learned that I couldn’t just run upstairs to get something, I had to bring Sarah with me,” says Bickford. Other parents have kept a playpen handy for those few moments when they need to focus their attention elsewhere.
2. Get creative about babyproofing
Tying chairs to table legs and putting wooden spoons through cupboard—door handles may not look especially stylish, but they’re strategies that work. One mother, whose stubborn baby kept opening the fridge, ended up putting a large cement block in front of the fridge door. Because he simply couldn’t move it, it kept him out of the fridge—and she joked it might be a weight-loss strategy for her as well.
3. Be patient
Your baby may want to put on her own shoes, even though she doesn’t really have the skills, so it helps to have some that are easy to slip on, like Crocs or Robeez—and hope she’ll let you help a little.
4. Teach skills
When Sarah started climbing over the top of the baby gate, Bickford decided to remove the gates and teach Sarah to go up and down the stairs safely.
5. Keep perspective
Being determined and persistent is a great trait for kids to have as they get older. These are not the kids who will give up on the way to accomplishing their goals.
6. Be empathetic
If you say, “Oh, you really want to put those shoes on and they won’t go on—that makes you mad,” your child won’t understand all the words, but she’ll get your supportive tone. Or you can use a little humour: “Darn shoes! Get on that foot, shoe!”
Bickford says she’s now more relaxed and laid-back as a result of Sarah’s determination and competence. “When I’m at the playground and Sarah’s climbing on the big climber and hanging upside down, the other parents are having heart attacks! But I know she can do it. She’s been climbing since she was nine months old.”
This article was originally published in March 2009