When to Start Disciplining Baby?

Hey everybody, today I’m trying out a new thing. Instead of sitting in front of my computer and typing out a post like normal, I am multitasking. My kids are at an event and I only have enough time to either work out, or write a blog post. So instead of choosing between them, today I am working on doing them both at the same time.

In today’s post, we are talking about when it is the right time to start disciplining a baby. One of the first things that sticks out to me though when I look at this topic are the words discipline and baby.

When I think of the word discipline, I think of consequences and punishments. Consequences and punishments are generally outcomes that we utilize with children who have developed at least some management skills and rational thinking skills. They understand that when they choose to do A, that B results, and we want to encourage specific behavior and threaten certain results if we don’t get that behavior. Parents differ on the use of punishments and consequences, such as timeouts and spankings, but this argument is not the topic of today’s post.

Instead, we want to focus on whether or not we should be disciplining a young child, that we would consider a baby, maybe even as young as three months or so. What I would say is that it is never too early to gently set limits to show your child what the rules and expectations are in the world.

But instead of thinking of it as discipline or punishments, we look at it as guiding the child in the right direction. A baby who is three months old does not have enough brain development and reasoning skills to form any sort of plan about grabbing his mother’s hair with the purpose of hurting her. He sees something interesting and grabs it. Then he gets a reaction and maybe he finds it funny or entertaining. Discipline (consequences and punishments) is not the response when you have a young child. Instead, you would speak gently to the baby, but firmly, and say something to him like, I’m not going to let you pull my hair. That hurts. And then you move on after removing your hair from his chubby fist.

Now, if he continues to grab your hair and get great delight out of the activity, I would recommend that you again gently but firmly remove the hair and say to him in a calm voice that you weren’t going to let him pull your hair, because it hurt. If the baby then continues to do it, rather than getting upset or frustrated or coming up with additional discipline, the parent should simply remove the temptation so that the child can’t pull hair anymore, and the parent doesn’t get upset or frustrated.

The same tactic holds true for just about any behavior. A young child who you have told not to open a certain cupboard continues to do it. Even when you move him away, he continues to open up the cupboard and rearrange everything. You let him know calmly and firmly that what he’s doing is something that you don’t want him to do and that you are going to set the limit and prevent him from doing it. And if he doesn’t heed your words, then you make it so that he can’t rearrange the cupboards. Instead of moving on towards greater punishments such as time out or even spanking, you set the limit and then calmly enforce it.

I frequently see parents out on the playground or out and about at events spanking young children in diapers who are barely able to walk. While I understand that the parent is trying hard to be responsible and wants their child to behave appropriately, it really misses the fact that the child is pretty much unable to really understand what the hitting is all about and how it is related to the behavior. Perhaps the child begins to associate that when he does something, his mom or dad hurts him. But is that something you really want your child to learn? That Mom or Dad can be relied upon to cause pain and suffering?

Clearly I’m not an advocate of spanking, because I am an advocate of science. The research just doesn’t support it. What I do support and what I have seen to be effective in my own family is to start communicating the rules and limits to child well before they can talk to you. Just because they don’t speak, doesn’t mean that they don’t understand. I could see very well with my own children that my words meant things to them even though they did not have the words to say them back to me.

When you are consistent with what the rules are and your enforcement of those rules, the question of discipline is really diminished. Children learn what the rules are and they really do want to figure out how to get along in the world according to those rules.

If you have a child who is consistently not following the rules, and you think that they should already know the rules either from the amount of times you’ve talked to them or previous behavior, then you need to look at potentially what the child is communicating to you when they are breaking those rules. Children frequently reach out to their parents in the most negative ways. Oftentimes, a child who is rule-breaking or making your life miserable, is miserable themselves inside. They don’t know how to reach out for you and to tell you that what they need more than anything is your love and kindness.

To wrap up (this post and my walk), it is never too early to start working with your child to learn the ways of behaving right in the world. But save the “discipline” for a long time. Chamber it, hold it in reserve, wait to deploy it until you’ve had a chance to learn about your child, study his maturity and habits, and know 100% that your discipline of choice is the right tool for the situation.

Before you bounce back to Google, check out one of these other articles from our many Mom Advice Line contributors:

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