Discipline is more than enforcing behavior. It’s about teaching, and it’s most effective when it’s positive. Discipline also means shaping your child’s character and teaching acceptable behavior. When you think of it that way, it’s easy to see that discipline starts at birth. The gentle touch and comfort you give to your child, and your responsiveness to his or her cries, model behavior from the beginning of life.
When your child starts to crawl, you’ll want to encourage good behavior and self-control. With this in mind, here are some helpful hints for early discipline:
Birth to age 6 months
When babies cry, they are just expressing their needs. You aren’t spoiling your child by holding or comforting him or her. The attention you give your child at this time is critical to developing a special bond.
Ages 6 to 18 months
Once a baby starts to crawl, it’s a good time to introduce verbal disapproval and the use of redirection. Your main goal is to keep your child safe. At this point, you need to “child proof” your son or daughter’s play space. This will keep you from saying “no” all the time.
If you need to stop an unacceptable behavior or prevent injury to your child, saying a gentle “no” and using redirection will help your child learn the limits of acceptable behavior. Redirection usually means removing him or her from the situation and establishes your authority. This process maintains the child’s sense of confidence and independence.
Ages 18 months to 3 years
Now that your child is talking, you also can be more verbal in teaching acceptable behaviors. Positive reinforcement still is the preferred method of discipline. Praise your child’s good behavior. Your child will start to repeat this behavior to seek your praise.
Ignoring bad behavior also can be effective. This applies to tantrums. If your child is safe, leave him or her alone and ignore the behavior. Around age 3, you can start to teach acceptable alternatives to tantrums, like talking about what your child is feeling.
Timeouts become more effective when your child is older than 18 months. A timeout should be reserved for serious situations when rules are broken. A timeout should be in a quiet area without extra contact from you. Timeouts should be no longer than 1 minute multiplied by the age of the child (3 minutes for a 3 year old).
Spanking is not recommended. This may teach a child that it is OK to hit another person. Remember, children model their parents’ behavior.
Dr. Rakovshik is a pediatrician at North Shore Pediatrics in Mequon, Wis. Are you looking for a pediatrician? Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has 17 primary care pediatric clinic sites throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Visit childrensmedicalgroup.org to find a pediatrician near you.
Read more blog posts by Dr. Rakovshik.