Ask the Experts: When should you expect your baby to respond to the word “no?”




We asked local experts to weigh in on when you should expect your baby to respond to the word “no?”

To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.


Sunshine Cowan: According to KidsHealth, a research-based site courtesy of The Nemours Foundation, babies understand “no” between eight and 12 months of age. When we say no to a baby this age, chances are they will stop what they are doing to look at us. Dr. Sears, a well-known pediatrician who has authored many guidebooks and oversees the Ask Dr. Sears website, reminds us to find ways to say “no” positively – so as not to ruin the impact.

Redirection can be a wonderful option for a baby who may otherwise incessantly hear “no” throughout the day. When we redirect behavior, our baby is also learning what they can do. Of course, when it comes to providing safety and security, there are times when our babies need to hear the word “no” for their own protection and benefit. 

In regards to safety, we can reduce the number of times we have to say “no” by ensuring that our baby’s need to explore and develop their motor skills are met. By baby-proofing appropriate areas for our little ones, we are able to safely allow them the much needed movement and exploration, which strengthens both their cognitive and motor development.

KidsHealth is an excellent resource that maintains updated, research-based information. For more information, visit kidshealth.org.

Dr. Sunshine Cowan is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma where she coordinates the Community/Public Health program. Although she teaches many courses in her role with the university, one of her favorites is a course on human development. Sunshine has been married to the love of her life, Jerel Cowan, for more than 20 years; together they have two children, Canyon and Ponder.


Thai-An Truong: Research says that babies understand "no" around 6 months, but won't begin to respond and stop their behaviors until around 12-18 months. My daughter responded to “no” at about one year, but now, at 18 months, she's pretending she's 6 months again and no longer responds to no. So it’s a fluid process.

Thai-An Truong is a therapist and mother who is passionate about helping pregnant and postpartum parents overcome depression and anxiety so they can feel like themselves again and enjoy life with their baby and family. After overcoming her own battle with postpartum depression and anxiety, she opened Lasting Change Therapy, LLC in South Oklahoma City to dedicate her counseling services to helping families recover. For more information, visit  www.lastingchangetherapy.com


Kathryn Konrad: Babies usually start to respond to “no” around 8 months. Babies are very curious and will often start to reach for things they should not have. This is probably the first time you will need to say “no”.

If you have not baby-proofed your home yet, now is the time. Encourage your baby’s curiosity by providing safe items to explore such as baby toys, books or blocks.

Older kids may notice your baby is very curious in their toys too but smaller toys can be a choking hazard. If it fits inside a paper towel or toilet paper roll, it is too small for your baby.

Kathryn Konrad is a maternal newborn nurse, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and an assistant professor at The University of Oklahoma Fran and Earl Ziegler College of Nursing. Since 2000, she has worked in labor and delivery, childbirth education, community education/outreach and nursing education. Konrad loves working with moms and babies and lives in Edmond with her husband and 9 year old son.


Dr. Kelly Stephens: By nine months, babies know what ‘no’ means. However, I don’t recommend saying ‘no’ too often. In the Charlie Brown cartoons, the teacher always talked like ‘Wah wah wah wah’ – at least that’s what the kids heard. The word ‘no’ can get like that if overused. Instead use other phrases like ‘that’s not yours’ so that ‘no’ means something and will stop a child from doing something dangerous.

Dr. Kelly Stephens, III has been practicing for 30 years and specializes in pediatrics at Mercy Clinic Primary Care I-35 Edmond.  He says, “seeing kids grow up and overcome problems, while watching parents get more adept at handling their little bundles of joy, these are the true rewards of my calling.” Learn more about Dr. Stephens at www.mercy.net/doctor/kelly-stephens-iii-md.


Amy Pomerantz: When a baby starts crawling well, usually between 6 to 8 months, they start to understand the word “no.” Using the word “no” strategically.  Physical redirection is helpful, too. Say no and move your baby away when they get too close to something unsafe or when they bite.

Amy Pomerantz is a postpartum doula and baby guru.  She started out babysitting at age 11. She then helped care for over 160 foster infants and toddlers when she was 18-24.  From there her passion for babies led her to nannying positions and, finally, postpartum doula work.  Her baby experience includes medically fragile, special needs and multiples.  She currently owns “Belle Bebe Doula” located in central Oklahoma.


To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.

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