Pushing Boundaries: Your Baby Is Learning How to Get What She Wants

Pushing Boundaries: Your Baby Is Learning How to Get What She Wants

You may have found that your baby, now between the age of 9 and 12 months, is beginning to identify himself as an individual1 and has become more interactive with others. As a result, he wants to be in the middle of whatever action is happening! He may also become fussy if he is restricted or “protest when [he] doesn’t want to do something,”2 such as when you try to transition him from one activity to another. You will begin to see anger and frustration flare up in your baby, because babies at this age have increasingly strong ideas of what they want and how they want to go about getting it. While he will show more defiance and independence now, his Self-Control skills are also growing to help him regulate his emotions and behaviors.3

You will find that his independence may lead him to push and test the boundaries of your relationship and household rules these days.3 He may defiantly refuse to eat his food, angrily throw his dinner bowl on the floor if he is upset, or keep taking off his shoes when you’re about to leave the house. These behaviors are amusing at best and frustrating at their worst.

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The good news is that your baby will soon learn how to behave and respond appropriately to situations by watching and imitating the reactions and behaviors modeled by you, other familiar adults, and other young children.4 Since he is naturally becoming more interested in interacting with his peers, encourage group play opportunities at this age. Although your baby will mostly be “parallel” playing (i.e. playing near or adjacent to other children now5) instead of playing with the other children, being near them and watching how they behave will help him learn positive behavior and Self-Control skills.

Your baby is also increasingly able to pay attention now, which is the ability to keep his attention to a task for a longer period of time.6,7 This ability to pay attention will allow him to focus on what he is currently doing and change his behavior if he’s told that it is inappropriate. Have patience during this time period and remind him where the boundaries are so that he learns what appropriate behavior is. By the end of his first year, he will have the Self-Control to come to you when you call his name and stop doing something when asked, like playing roughly or shouting indoors.2

Play Tips:

Do you want to know how you can support your baby’s development of these Self-Control skills at this age? It’s easy! Read on for some simple tips to incorporate into your daily play time together.

  1. Be consistent with your reactions and responses.3 Your baby will start imitating you and your reactions to different situations. Talk with his other caregivers and ask that they give responses similar to your own. This will help him understand what is acceptable behavior. Remember to praise your baby when he tries to calm himself down from frustrations on his own.
  2. Maintain a consistent schedule and routine.1,8 Your baby wants to understand what is going on and what will happen next. Let him know what to expect so that he can build trust and security and learn how to respond appropriately. When transitioning into a new activity, give him notice so that he may prepare for the change.3
  3. Offer opportunities to observe and play with other children.9 Babies learn primarily through example and practice, especially with other young children. Supervise these play dates and point out what other children are doing and how they are appropriately behaving.8
  4. Acknowledge and label all of your baby’s feelings.3,8 Using phrases like “I see you are mad” or “You must be proud that you put your pants on by yourself” will help him understand what he is feeling. By understanding what he feels, he will be able to better describe his feelings in the future and control his emotions and reactions more quickly and appropriately.

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Developmental Milestones:

Has your baby achieved the following Self-Control developmental milestones yet? If yes, check off all the skill(s) she has already mastered to date using Playful Bee’s developmental milestones tracker. It’s absolutely FREE and easy to use, just click HERE!

  • Enjoys imitating people in play.
  • Tests parental responses to actions.



1Arkansas Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education (2002). Arkansas Framework for Infant and Toddler Care.

2New Mexico State Children, Youth, and Families Department, NM Department of Health, and NM Public Education department (2012). New Mexico Early Learning Guidelines: Birth through Kindergarten.

3Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (2009). Pennsylvania Learning Standards for Early Childhood.

4Gellens, Suzanne R. (2013). Building Brains. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

5Kail, R.V., & Cavaunaugh, J.C. (2007). Human Development: A Life-Span View (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

6Davies, D.R., and Parasuraman, R. (1982). The Psychology of Vigilance. London, UK: Academic Press.

7Oken, B.S., and M.C. Salinsky, S.M. Elsas (2006). Vigilance, Alertness, or Sustained Attention: Physiological Basis and Measurement. Clinical Neurophysiology117(9), 1885–1901. Retrieved on February 12, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2865224/.

8North Dakota Department of Human Services (2007). Birth to 3: Early Learning Guidelines.

9Meltzoff, A. N. (2007). Infants’ causal learning: Intervention, observation, imitation. In A. Gopnik & L. Schulz (Eds.), Causal learning: Psychology, philosophy, and computation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Retrieved February 12, 2014, from http://ilabs.washington.edu/meltzoff/pdf/07Meltzoff_Causal%20Reasoning.pdf.

Playful Bee

Education Team at Playful Bee
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