Discipline and Babies
By Vicki Thrasher Cronin
Licensed Parent Educator, Pre-K Teacher
First of all, what is discipline and how is it different from punishment? When it involves children, discipline is “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” and punishment is “an act of inflicting suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution,” as defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary. As parents, we might just think of discipline as leading, counseling and/or coaching to help our little ones learn how to be successful in the world and of punishment as a pre-defined consequence designed to correct behavior for children over 2.
That’s right. No punishment for children under 2! Children under 2, babies and toddlers, do not yet understand the connection between cause and effect and punishment. Your baby is born curious; curiosity fuels exploration, and exploration drives a baby’s gathering of experience. Babies only know what they know, and they know what they know through their experiences. Your baby is learning at lighting speed, and you and your home, are the playground! Babies learn by doing. During your baby’s first year, you will find that redirecting, distracting and baby-proofing will be your primary discipline tools.
One of my favorite parenting quotes comes from American humorist and syndicated columnist, Erma Bombeck: “If you can do it to your friend, you can do it to your child. If you can say it to your friend, you can say it to your child.” This quote is important because it sets the stage for discipline, a stage set with respect. As your baby’s first teacher, it is your job to provide the guidance, leadership, and coaching necessary for your baby to learn to be a successful adult. It’s all about respectful relationships.
Respect is learned. It doesn’t just come as a feature of the baby unit, and it cannot be purchased! Your baby will learn respect from you. Right from the very beginning, your tone of voice and your commitment to consistency is the foundation your child’s trust in you. Babies are born learning, and they are learning what is and is not acceptable by your response to them. Your baby is tuned into you: your voice, the look on your face, and the way you hold her. Your facial expressions and redirection techniques will give your baby clear messages about what is okay and what is not.
Put lots of smiles, coos and tah-dahs on what your baby does that you just adore. Nothing pleases a baby more than your joy! She’ll do it over and over again if you love it. And, conversely, don’t give much attention or energy to things your baby does that you don’t like. Just redirect and move on! Remember, you want to focus on what you want your baby to do.
Discipline provides guidance, leadership and coaching. It is about helping your baby learn what to do and how to do it. And it’s happening all day every day!