Disciplining Young Children

Up until now you have most probably been gently cooing and babbling with your baby. Happily playing and making her giggle and snort with laughter, cheering like mad at every milestone your baby achieves. All of a sudden though, you find your baby is using her newly found mobility and motor skills to create mischief and mayhem on a scale to rival that of Horrid Henry!

If she's not sticking toys into the DVD player, she's busily emptying the contents of drawers, cupboards and bookshelves onto the floor. Before, all you had to do to keep your baby happy and from harm was to deposit her in a safe spot; now, no such haven exists and it feels like you need eyes in the back of your head.

For the first time, you're likely to be upset by, rather than proud of what your baby gets up to. And for the first time the question of discipline has probably come up in your home. But, discipline is not a dirty word. If you're thinking about discipline: whether to do it, how to do it, should you do it? Then it's probably the right time to start. Waiting to introduce discipline into a child's life later than a year could make the task much more difficult; trying to do it earlier than now would most likely have been futile.

Why Should You Discipline a Toddler or Child?

First of all to instill the concept of right from wrong. Though it will be a long time before your child will fully grasp this, it's now that you should begin to teach right from wrong by both example and guidance. Second; to teach respect for the rights and feelings of others. This is so that a child will grow from a normally self-centred baby into a sensitive and caring child and then adult. Finally, to protect your baby from harm (and keep your sanity intact), now, and in the months and years of trials and tribulations ahead.

There is no right or wrong way to go about disciplining your child - it is what feels right to you as parents. As you set out, just keep in mind some of the following points:

  • Though the word 'discipline' is associated with rules and punishment, it actually comes from the latin word for 'teaching'. This is a much more positive way to look at the discipline of your children.
  • Every child is different and every family is different. However, there are certain behavioural rules that are universal and apply to everyone, that you will want your child to learn and live by.
  • It is important to let children know they are still loved, even when their behaviour is disapproved of.
  • The most effective discipline is neither uncompromisingly rigid nor overly permissive. Strict and total discipline that relies on parental policing rather than encouraging your children to exercise self-control usually turns out children who are totally submissive to their parents but totally uncontrollable once out of reach of parental or other adult authority. Both extremes are likely to fall short in teaching your child the right kind of behaviour. A more nurturing brand of discipline falls somewhere in between - it sets limits that are fair and enforces them within a loving environment. There are normal variations in parenting styles, some are just naturally laidback while others are more strict. That's just fine so long as neither style goes to one extreme or the other.
  • If you have more than one child you will no doubt have noticed differences in personality. And these differences might affect how each child is best disciplined. You may need to tailor your style to suit the child as an individual.
  • Children need limits. Boundaries set by parents (and then enforced) provide a solid platform to keep children secure and steady while they explore and grow.
  • A baby who gets into trouble isn't bad. Babies and toddlers don't know right from wrong, so what they do can't be deemed wicked. They learn by experimenting and observing cause and effect. Repeatedly telling your child they are bad might damage their self-confidence, a more positive way to discipline would be to criticise your baby's actions rather than your baby (e.g biting's bad, not you are bad).
  • Be consistent, otherwise the rules and boundaries you have set become meaningless and you lose credibility.
  • Babies and young toddlers have limited memories. You can't expect them to learn a lesson the first time it's taught but you can expect them to repeat an undesirable action over and over again. So be patient and be prepared to repeat the same message - sometimes for weeks - before it finally sinks in or the fascination is lost.
  • Correction and reward work better than punishment. Positive reinforcement, rewarding and praising good behaviour can work much better than punishment as it builds self-confidence.
  • Anger triggers anger. Indulge in an angry outburst when your child does something wrong and he or she's more likely to respond in kind rather than with remorse. If necessary take a few moments to calm down before you explain to your baby that what he or she did was wrong and why. If your long term goal is to teach right behaviour than screaming or smacking is a poor example of what's appropriate when you feel angry or upset.

Nobody is Perfect

Whatever methods you choose to discipline your child, remember that nobody is perfect, and that includes you. Setting unattainable standards for your children will be hard for them to live up to and even harder for you to enforce on a daily basis. Don't feel bad if you do slip up or feel overwhelmed. Parents who never lose it or never shout are extremely rare creatures. You are doing your very best and by trying to discipline your child, your child will be benefiting from your actions and efforts.

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