Watching my son develop his independence and unique preferences is pretty amazing. From that little burrito of a person I brought home from the hospital to the fun-loving and adventurous boy I see now is astounding. He walks everywhere, stopping now and then to dance, clap, and experience his surroundings. The problem is, not everything he wants to interact with is safe, friendly, or clean. It’s time to start ingraining a sense of boundaries and teach him that when I say “no” or “don’t” that he has to respect that, for his own good. For a growing mind with limited communication skills, this is hard, and very frustrating. So how to you go about kindly, firmly, and appropriately teaching your child the word “no?” This is a very difficult question. I'm not an expert, but I'm going through it in my own way with my own son.
One major challenge that I'm facing is that it is super hard to keep a straight face when the naughtiness that your child is up to is really cute. You may have seen a commercial in which a pair of well intentioned sisters eagerly beg to keep a filthy dog they have already partially bathed, or the YouTube video in which a father tries to get the story straight from two brothers covered head to toe in paint! The tone that you use to address the behaviour is important, I find. Do your best to be firm and unimpressed. Even if I manage to be tough, sometimes my own dad or my husband is there chuckling in the background! If your child has a sense that what they are doing is funny, they take this as a positive response, and want to repeat it. Sigh...
It's helpful to discuss a consequence for inappropriate actions with other adults (your spouse, the grandparents, any day care workers, etc), so that there is a sense of consistency in how you approach the correction. Establish an age-appropriate punishment, explain it, and stick to your guns no matter the results.
To be clear, when I say explain, I mean tell your child what about their actions is wrong or unsafe so they can start to choose differently. I don’t think you should have to explain your parenting or consequence philosophy to anyone else. What seems right to you might seem too kind, or too harsh, depending on the background and generation of the commenter. Don’t let that sway you. No one knows your child better than you, and so long as you’re not doing anything too severe (such as any form of bodily harm) your system is just as good as anybody’s.
For my little guy, we always point at what the problem is, strongly say no, and remove him from the situation. He’s still small, so this sometimes takes a few tries, but when he realizes that continued attempts to, say, remove the night light from the socket, will keep getting him carried across the room, he gets tired of it and stops. Older children might need a time out step or chair, grounding, or other punishment. You'll find something that makes sense for your own child.
If a certain item is a trigger for bad behaviour, such as the cat’s dish, that night light, the rolling ottoman etc, the easiest thing to do is to remove the temptation outright. For items that can’t be removed or made safe, you need to make the object unappealing, and use repetition to establish that interaction with it is not allowed. This can ultimately result in some serious frustration and lead to a meltdown; the pout and point, throwing their head back, shrieking... It’s going to happen more than a few times in a child’s life, and handling an escalation is not easy. For very young kids, a distraction is usually enough. Don’t reward the tantrum with toys or candy, but singing, pointing out a nearby dog, or tickling have all been successful for me.
Being a disciplinarian is not easy, and I know it's only going to get harder. The job of a parent is to keep your child safe, and that doesn't always make you their best friend. There are always good days and bad days. Lean on your spouse, your mom, or a mommy friend to get you through it. They may not understand now why they can't eat the computer cables, or why climbing the bookshelf isn't a good idea, but that's okay. They will appreciate it later. Don't you?