When should I start disciplining my child?

Parenting Styles   |   Age: 3 months 2 weeks

When should I start disciplining my child?

The short answer: not for quite a while. In the long run, it is your and your partner's job to teach your little one about how to keep herself safe, and how to behave in polite company. Right now, though, and for the next few months of her life she is going to be too busy learning how to function physically and cognitively to learn anything more advanced. It wouldn’t be fair, healthy, or useful to begin scolding at such a tender age. But it's true that, when she's older, you’ll need to teach your baby that certain kinds of behavior are neither safe nor socially acceptable. Consider this chronological timeline for gradually taking the parental gloves off.

0 to 6 months:

The first 6 months of your baby’s life are the most innocent. Keep in mind that she is experiencing everything, including her own mechanical abilities, for the very first time. It might be frustrating when your baby keeps dribbling pureed peas onto the floor during feeding time, but this isn’t deliberate provocation: it’s an act of curiosity. So when episodes like these happen, resist the urge to get upset and do your best to maintain a calm and collected demeanor. A time will come for those beginner etiquette lessons.

7 to 12 months:

Many childhood experts agree that soft discipline should begin once a baby has mastered crawling - "soft discipline" mostly meaning "letting her know that some things aren't for touching." Once your baby has achieved the ability to explore the world without your help, it’s important to establish boundaries. Keeping potentially harmful items out of her reach and childproofing sections of your home will help, but you should also begin vocally communicating with her about common household “no-no zones” such as electrical outlets. It’s probably too soon for your baby to understand the meaning of the word “no,” so instead, you can try adopting a scary or worried tone of voice whenever she approaches something dangerous. Before long, your baby should learn to respond to that tone in your voice appropriately. Sometimes she might even mimic the noise you’re making.

1 to 2 years:

As your baby’s communication skills and physical confidence grow, you can start explaining that it’s not okay to toss household objects or grab the dog’s tail. Just brace yourself for some vocal backlash: these sudden limits upon her newfound freedom through crawling - or walking - can bring about your baby's first tantrum. And while it’s still too early to send her to her room or take away certain privileges, early childhood tantrums should be met with a response. Most parents find that a hug, a distracting toy, or even a calm, informative talking-to (“You can’t go down the stairs yet: they’re too dangerous”) can resolve these meltdowns.

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