How young is too young for discipline?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

There is no doubt that 10-month-olds have their own personality... and certainly their own ideas about what they want to do. I'm pretty sure Sienna understands the word "no" although she doesn't always obey it. I've read up a little on the topic of discipline because 10 months does seem a bit early to start instituting "rules" but according to many experts, this is exactly the time in life you want to begin establishing boundaries.

A lot of babies (especially because they are teething), put EVERYTHING in their mouths. It's also a way of getting to know their environment and using their senses to explore. There have been several times when Sienna has tried to put a piece of grass in her mouth or has grabbed my cell phone and attempted to eat that. I've tried to use the phrase "Not in the mouth" instead of "no". According to the book "What to Expect the First Year", the authors say that it is important to start introducing simple instructions. But using the word "No" too often can make the word much less effective.

Here's an excerpt I thought may be helpful:

    "Save it ["no"] for the most important battles; for lesser ones, allow your baby as much choice as you possibly can, and look for alternative ways to redirect her: 'That's not safe for babies, but you can play with this instead.'"
For example, when Sienna goes for my cell phone, I gently take it away, tell her "Not in the mouth" and give her a teething ring or start playing her favorite song on her music table. Of course, it doesn't always work. There is sometimes a short tantrum that follows it but experts say you have to be careful here too. It's important not to react, positively or negatively to a crying fit. Sometimes babies are just looking for ANY reaction. Instead, I try a few more toys and maintain an even-keeled voice.

Of course, there are some exceptions when it comes to a "gentle" no. If I see Sienna heading for an electrical outlet or something else that could be dangerous, I give a more forceful "no".

Regardless of how old the child is, spanking or any physical contact for that matter is never recommended. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics says it is not effective. The AAP states that discipline must contain three vital elements:

    1) A learning environment characterized by positive, supportive parent-child relationships.
    2) A strategy for systematic teaching and strengthening of desired behaviors (proactive).
    3) A strategy for decreasing or eliminating undesired or ineffective behaviors (reactive).
Each of these components needs to be functioning adequately for discipline to result in improved child behavior.

Keep these things in mind but remember every child responds differently. Experiment with a few different verbal methods and see what your child responds best too. Most importantly, whether it's "No", "Don't do that" or any other negative phrase&.be careful not to overuse it! One more thing I try to be aware of, try to use positive reinforcement when the baby listens or follows instructions. I find that's more effective than anything! Your baby's language skills continue to develop quickly, too. She may point or use other meaningful gestures, such as sign language or waving bye-bye. She may be able to say - and really mean! - "Mama" or "Dada" now, and to understand simple instructions: "Show me your tummy" or "Pat the kitty gently." But she may also hear and comprehend - and then choose to ignore you! (Hey, this way you'll be ready when she does it as a teenager!) Keep in mind that she's not deliberately being naughty; she's just testing the waters, trying to determine where the limits are. And that means it's time to introduce some basic discipline into her life. She's now old enough to remember what you say and do (any earlier than this and your rules would be forgotten almost as soon as they left your lips). Experiment to see how firm a tone your baby needs and how best she responds: A gentle "No, no" followed by distraction with a toy or song? Or a more forceful "No, dangerous!" along with physical removal from the potted plant or electric outlet she's intent on exploring? Consistency, follow-through, and the presence of some kind of limits are more important than the specific rules or methods you choose to use. (Again, that's true for teenagers too!) While your baby may seem young for discipline and structure, remember that you are helping her learn to stay safe, as well as laying the foundation for self-control, good manners, and an innate sense of right versus wrong. In other words, you're building a good little citizen! But remember that if your baby hears no too often, the word will become less effective. Save it for the most important battles; for lesser ones, allow your baby as much choice as you possibly can, and look for alternative ways to redirect her: "That's not safe for babies, but you can play with this instead." Read more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on

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