How Soon Can I Start to Discipline

By the age of nine months, your baby is smarter than almost every other creature on earth. Before she is a year old, she is more intelligent than the family dog, and the dog is fully capable of learning to "sit," "stay," and "come here." Even if your child has a very limited vocabulary, she can still understand disciplinary actions that include absolutely no words. For example, if your child throws her bottle and you are tired of retrieving it, merely remove it. If she won't sit in her high chair, fasten the seat belt. If she purposely spits out her carrots, just take the food away.

You can begin to discipline with words not long after this. A healthy toddler understands most verbal disciplinary instructions by 18 months and has a fully functioning memory by age two. Her verbal achievements may limit her ability to respond, but if you expect understanding from your child and speak to her in a manner that inspires respect, this interaction will promote healthy growth throughout her childhood.

One caution: avoid disciplining in matters you cannot enforce without your child's decision to follow your command. For example, a parent cannot force a child to swallow, eat, sleep, and so on.

Each time you attempt a lesson that you cannot enforce, you undermine your authority and suggest to your child that her teacher is not dependable. Therefore, commanding your child to "eat your food," "go to sleep," "poop in the potty," "stop crying," or anything of this sort undermines your position as a "good boss" if your child doesn't comply. Instead, make statements that are enforceable: "the meal is over in five minutes," "you need to stay in your bedroom and I'll see you in the morning," "as soon as you poop in the potty we can go play in the park," "looks like you need a 'time out' until you stop crying," and so on.

As your child becomes a toddler, you have an obligation to teach her about the realities of the world regardless of whether she wants to learn these things. Safety is a top concern. You can never allow your young child to decide any issues that threaten her safety. She needs to learn that when her "good boss" declares something is unsafe, she must obey. If an activity runs a risk of seriously injuring or harming her, you must let her know—through firm holding, firm words, firm redirection, and firm expressions— that under no circumstances will you allow her to come into harm's way. Limit your child physically when necessary. Let her know that there is absolutely no wiggle room for her misbehavior when it comes to her safety.

There is another category regarding safety issues, however. If you determine that an activity is unwise but will not seriously harm or injure your child, it is best for you to warn her of the danger but allow her to learn on her own. For example, you may say something like, "Johnny, if you stand on the step stool that way you may fall off and bump yourself" or, "Erin, if you don't let mommy tie your shoelaces you may trip and fall on the grass." Then back off and see what happens. When your child experiments with not listening to you, a certain amount of very mild discomfort will help her realize what a wise and good boss you are. Showing what a good boss you are is better than the alternative.

Parents who hover over their kids to try and avoid all painful falls or spills will often create children who are either oblivious to how to keep themselves safe, or who become risk takers because they are sick of parents who act like helicopters over them.

Don't overwarn. If you do, you run the risk of turning this lesson into a battle of wills. Simply tell her while making direct eye contact and then back off. Some of the time, nothing will happen. She won't fall off the chair or trip. This is fine. The lesson will come later. If, however, your child doesn't listen to you and is slightly hurt because of this, offer her empathy and comfort while gently reminding her that you cautioned her. "Ooh, I'm sorry you fell off the step stool. I'll bet that hurts. Mommy warned you that might happen." "Oh, honey, I'll bet that feels awful. Next time maybe you'll want Mommy to tie your shoelaces." Don't gloat and don't overdiscuss it; allow the natural consequences of her not listening to your warnings to sink in. Talking too much about it makes a child defensive and causes her to miss the message

The third category of problem behaviors includes those unrelated to safety issues. This category is by far the largest of the three and the one that most often confounds parents regarding discipline.

Parenting Teens Special Report

Parenting Teens Special Report

Top Parenting Teenagers Tips. Everyone warns us about the terrible twos, but a toddler does not match the strife caused once children hit the terrible teens. Your precious children change from idolizing your every move to leaving you in the dust.

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