"Developmentally, they don't understand" - Teach them anyway!
Naturally, I am a part of a few "mom groups" on facebook. Most of these spaces allow for moms to celebrate the joys of motherhood and vent about the less-than-sunny sides of parenting. Often times, we talk about our spouses, our kids, our joys, our frustrations - everything under the sun. There are parenting groups for nearly every type of parent that exists. They are wonderful resources for connection and community. I encourage all you parents to find one - find your village.
Every once in a while, I see a mom, at her wits end, begging for advice on how to handle her unruly child. "They don't listen, they hit, they scream, they cry, they bite... etc". Someone will offer advice, and then another mom will chime in and say - "Well, you can't do that. Developmentally, they won't understand that." And chances are, they're right. Your teething 9 month old won't understand why she can't bite you. Your 1-1/2 year old might not understand why he's not allowed to stand in the cart. You know what, teach them anyway.
When my son was 6 months old, he had these bright colored balls, similar in size, with some odd textures, and he loved to play with them. One day, I was sitting on the floor with him, and I organized them by color (because I like organizing things - lol). He scooted over to one pile, and I said, "These are red balls!" He scooted to another pile, and I said, "These are blue!" I would play with each of the toys and talk about their color and their shape. When my husband got home, I said, "Look! He knows his colors! Can you show Papa the red ball?" And my 6 month old son picked up the red ball.
Now, reasonably, did he know what red or blue meant? No. Did he forget what he'd learned the next day? Yeah. But we practiced. We talked about red and blue blocks, and red and blue cars. The understanding of what red meant and what blue meant came later. The way colors combine and make new ones came later - but we started, even when he didn't understand.
You might say, "Well, that's different, but my one year old throws a monster-sized fit about not getting her way. She hit me and bite me, and developmentally, she won't understand a time out." You're right - she probably won't. And I'm gonna level with you - we don't do time outs in my house, and it's not necessarily because "we do time ins instead". (Which, I definitely want to write about later!)
Around the time my son was 1, maybe 1-1/2, he would throw those exact fits. The hitting and biting were not okay with me. I mean, really, who likes being beaten by their toddler? The moment he would hit me, I would take his hand in mine and say, "No. You do not get to hit me. I love you, and I want to help you feel better. But if you are going to hit me, I'll need you to step into your room until can be respectful." If he hit again, I set him down in his room. A few minutes later, he'd waddle out crying, and we'd cuddle. The hitting didn't last long.
He wasn't banished to his room for a time limit I imposed. It wasn't the "eternity" that 5 minutes is to a small child. He was in control of the situation. He could come out at any time given that he could be respectful. Did I expect him to know what that was? No, not at all. But by approaching him this way, I was teaching him the complex idea of respect. At one, even though he didn't know it, he was being taught that hitting is not respect. As he grew older and became more verbal, he has learned that screaming at me, is not respect, throwing things is not respect, pushing and shoving, aren't respect.
Respect is a huge and sometimes complicated topic, and teaching it to young children can be difficult to navigate. When they're little, they won't understand, and that's okay. Teach it to them anyway. The understanding will come later, and by then, it'll be second nature to them.