Starting young


A few days ago, I got an email from a reader who wondered whether my eBook, Live in Harmony with First-Time Obedience, would be appropriate for her family even though her child was only a year old. My answer: yes! I believe it’s perfectly fine, if not preferable, to start obedience training early. Here’s why:

Training the child
When you start obedience training with a young child/toddler, you give yourself ample opportunity to establish authority over your child. There will come a day when he’s tempted to run in the opposite direction when you call his name. If you have been working on FTO and establishing authority, he will second-guess himself before he runs.

There will also come a day when you need your young child to obey. When Lucas was about 18 months old, I had a conference with William’s teacher. I wasn’t able to line up a sitter, so I brought them both with me. Other teachers occupied William, but I had to keep Lucas with me.

We had been doing blanket time at home, so I brought our usual blanket with us, gave him a basket of toys, and proceeded to talk to the teacher. He stood up one time and looked at me as if he was checking to see if it was okay. I told him to sit back down and he did. The conference was a good 20 minutes long, and he sat and played quietly the entire time. The teacher was impressed.

Training the parent
While training the young child is important, in these early years, it’s important for parents to train themselves. There are some parents who need to shore up the courage to command authority. There are some parents who stare like a deer in headlights, not knowing what to do, when their child disobeys. There are some parents who overlook disobedience because they don’t yet recognize it as disobedience. Read last week’s post on micro-rebellion for more on this.

When you start young, you prepare yourself for obedience training. Some day, your child will choose to run in the opposite direction when you call (I can almost guarantee it). If you have prepared yourself for obedience training, you will know what to do when it happens.

You will have discussed your parenting ideas with your spouse and decided ahead of time how you will treat every act of disobedience. You will make sure you and your spouse are on the same page. And you will take preventive measures, like blanket time and following a schedule, to head off disobedience before it rears its ugly head.

Do your reading now
When your child is young, take the opportunity to read parenting books and discuss them with your spouse. Read everything from Toddlerwise, Childwise and Parenting with Love & Logic to The Attachment Parenting Book.

You can take a methodical approach with your reading, deciding what your goals are and finding the resources to get you there. Or you can just get a feel for every book. When we find the book that’s for us, it will clearly resonate with us. There may be one or two pieces of advice that we don’t agree with, but on the whole we will know it’s for our family. I have done all of this reading and can tell you without a doubt that the Ezzos’ books are right for my family.

As you read, always stay one step ahead of your child. When your child is a baby, read Toddlerwise. When he’s a toddler, read Preschoolwise. When he’s a preschooler, read Childwise. That way, you can prepare yourself for what’s to come.


  1. I don’t know that this particularly relates to this post, but I wasn’t sure where to comment. :) I have a little boy who will be 3 next week, and I am at my wit’s end with him. We have been doing BW since he was born (or thought we were, anyway), but somewhere along the way I guess we started parenting outside the funnel. I bought your First-Time Obedience book and have read it probably a dozen times, but he’s so far from there that I don’t even know where to start. His behavior is destructive and completely out of control, and I dread every day with him. We’ve had to stop doing roomtime because he was destroying everything in his room. We’ve removed all his books because he was tearing them to pieces and taken out all his toys because he was using the toy bins to climb on and get things in his closet that were supposed to be off limits. This is a typical hour in our house these days: While I was caring for his 4-month old brother, he grabbed a coupon insert off the kitchen counter and cut it to confetti. I put him in time-out on his bed. I went in a few minutes later, and he wasn’t on his bed. I spanked him and put him back on his bed. A couple minutes later, he was off again. Another spanking and back on his bed. A few minutes later, I got him out of time-out, having yet another conversation about obedience and needing to ask before you cut or rip anything. I returned to finish the vacuuming I’d begun during time-out, and in the two minutes it took me to finish, he took a new pack of gum out of my purse and took the wrappers off every piece, dumping them all on the floor. Back to time-out. And on it goes. Any suggestions where to even start? Every meal, every bath, every teeth brushing, every bedtime, etc. is a battle. Thanks!

  2. Maureen says:

    Hi Laurie,

    Phew, I’m tired just reading that. Sorry your little one is trying you so much. I was there with my oldest. We thought we did BW, but really stopped doing it after he turned a year old. You will have a happy, harmonious household soon enough. You just need to take the steps to get there. While you think through my recommendations (below), reread the parts in my eBook about Ezzo fundamentals. Really do take the time to get those under your belt. And read Toddlerwise, Childwise, or better yet, the Growing Kids Workbook (you can get it at If you’re a visual learner, you might even buy the GKGW DVDs. The audio CDs are good too. Basically, your son is ASKING for boundaries. He’s asking you to show authority and family stability (couch time). And I wonder if his brother is taking a lot of your attention, he might be need some attention in the love language department.

    Some ideas you can start tomorrow:
    1) Eliminate food dyes and all refined sugar from his diet.
    2) Practice couch time with your husband.
    3) Write down your schedule and stick to it. Make sure he’s eating 3 healthy meals and one afternoon snack. Make sure he’s getting a good long nap.
    4) Keep him near you all day long! Use baby gates if you need to.
    5) Practice getting him to stay where you need him to, first working on blanket time. Put him on a blanket with some toys/books. Tell him he is to stay put. Then sit right there. Pretend that you are doing something else, but the minute he tries to leave the blanket put him back. Once he’s sat obediently for 3 minutes, be done and give him huge praise. Now, it might take you an hour to get your 3 minutes, so just keep at it. Then every day increase the time he’s to sit obediently bit by bit. You might even practice this 2-3 times a day.
    6) Praise him any and every time you see a chance.
    7) Choose his worst misbehaviors (the chronic ones you see all day) and discipline for just those. Keep it to one or two. For everything else, just give verbal warnings.
    8) Reduce his choices. Don’t let him run the show.
    9) Take him outside to burn some energy at least once a day, weather permitting. I have two boys, I know how important this can be.

    He’s showing you he can’t act like an almost 3yo, so you need to treat him like a 1yo. So:
    1) Since he can’t treat his toys and books nicely, pack them all up and put them away. Keep a few out for blanket time. Swap them out to keep blanket time interesting.
    2) Make sure anything he can’t handle having is out of his reach. Like the scissors. How did he get a hold of them?
    3) It sounds to me like he’s not responsible enough to be out of a crib. I honestly would bring a crib back. If that’s not feasible, use a pack and play.
    4) For timeouts, I think you’re not yet at the point where you can trust him to sit on his bed. You don’t want to play the Supernanny game where you’re at it for hours just to keep him there. I would use a crib (with a crib tent if he climbs out) or pack and play. If neither of those works, take everything out of his room, and use a baby gate to keep him in there. The idea is that you want to send him there and not continue to struggle while he’s there.
    5) Be sure to follow my timeout tips, explained in a blog post by the same name. You want to make sure his attitude/heart is in the right spot before you get him out of timeout.

    All of this will take some work and dedication, but it will help! Do what you can to focus just on all of this for a little while. Obviously, you have to take care of his brother, but make this your focus. Maybe even put house-cleaning on the back burner for a bit. Ask your DH to get takeout on the way home. It won’t be forever. Just a few days until you start seeing a little bit of that submissive heart.

    I’ll be here to help you through the process, but I am heading out of town. The ladies on the Babywise Grads board on BabyCenter are amazing. It’s a private board, so you need to ask permission to join, but that shouldn’t take too long.

    Good luck! Take heart you will have a happy, obedient boy soon enough!

  3. Thanks so much for your quick response, Maureen! I asked permission to join the Babywise Grad board on BabyCenter. My husband and I do have couch time, but I have really struggled with keeping him on a schedule (other than meals, nap, and bedtime). This may sound dumb, but I don’t know how to make him do what he’s supposed to do on a schedule. If I say it’s time to do a puzzle, he runs away screaming, throws himself on the floor, etc. That pattern continues the entire time we are supposed to be doing the puzzle. I have also struggled more with a schedule since the baby was born, as he is still somewhat inconsistent in his napping. I work part-time from home as well, and my job has been increasingly demanding. I work seven days a week and have only had one day off (due to severe illness) in the last 3.5 months.

    I tried today to keep him with me as much as possible, but short of chains (which I have considered, lol), I’m not sure how to do it. Our hallways are too wide for baby gates, at least for any that are within our price range. We have done our best to put things out of his reach, but there aren’t many places he can’t get to if he really wants. For instance, he ran away from me this morning while we were doing laundry, and in the time it took me to start the washer, he dragged a chair into the kitchen, climbed up on the counter, got the baking soda out of the cabinet and dumped out half of it. We did do blanket time today, He screamed hysterically the entire time to the point of choking, but eventually he did at least stay on the blanket for 3 minutes. I couldn’t get him to stop crying, though.

    I have re-read the posts on time-outs. My question, though, is what do you do if you never see a change of heart? In all the times we have disciplined my son, I have not once seen any kind of repentance or change of heart. It scares me, and I am not sure what to do differently.

    Thank you again for all your help, and I hope you enjoy your time out of town!

  4. I’m encouraged by what I hear about blanket time. It’s actually a good thing that he cried. He’s learning that he’s having to give up some control and that you’re the authority over him. Keep it up! The more you do it, the easier it will get and the easier your days will be. As for scheduling his day and him running away when it’s time to do a puzzle, he’s just too used to running his day. He’s not going to willingly let you have control over his day. But you desperately need it! It sounds like you just need to work on that. Blanket time will do a lot to get you there. It will be hard on both of you, but the payoff will be huge. He just needs to learn that he doesn’t run the show.

    As for the timeouts/change of heart, I think you’re too new to this still. I’m not sure you will see a change of heart. At least not before he learns that he’s not running the show. You want to see a bit of submissiveness in him. If timeouts just make him angry, that tells you even more that you need to work on showing him who’s boss. The more you do this, the better. Do blanket time 4-5 times a day if that’s what it takes!

    As for your work, please get a nanny if you don’t have one! If you’ve been trying to watch him and work at the same time, you’re not going to be able to do either one very well. In fact, this tells me a lot. If you’ve got your nose in a computer or if you’re on the phone, he’s acting out to get your attention! I’m all for letting kids play independently, but they need guidance and attention from an adult. And you say that you’ve been working a lot in the past 3.5 months and your younger one is 4 months? Wow, that’s a lot for a little one to handle all at once. He lost his mama all in one fell swoop! That’s not fair to him.

    I do still think physical boundaries will make your life easier. Are the big ones that much more expensive? Have you checked Craigslist or eBay?

  5. Thanks again for your response! We will continue to work on blanket time and following a schedule. Unfortunately, if we were able to afford a nanny, we could afford for me to quit working. It’s a great blessing to work from home, but I make less than minimum wage, and my husband has only had part-time work for the past three years. I do my best to work when he’s sleeping. I get up at 4 a.m. to work for a few hours before feeding the baby and getting him up, and then I work during his nap in between feeding the baby. I do sometimes have to work for a little while after his nap, and I often have to work a little more on the weekends. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done very well at napping lately. About 2/3 of the time, he doesn’t fall asleep at all.

    I have looked on craigslist for gates, but I hadn’t thought of eBay. They do have some, but we could only afford to buy one at this point. We could put it up between the kitchen and living room if you think that would be helpful. We have been saving to get a double stroller on craigslist so that I can take him outside more. We used to go on walks every day, but his behavior is not to the point where I can take him out without a stroller. If he steps into the street or throws a fit when I tell him we have to go home, I need something to strap him into to take him home. If we can only get one thing (gate or stroller), which do you think would be more helpful at this point? Thank you again!

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