Discipline is often a stressful subject for parents, no matter what age their children might be. Discipline too little, you are perceived as a neglectful or indulgent parent who is raising a wild hooligan. Discipline too much and you are seen as cruel and uncaring. There is a happy medium between these extremes, but it is not necessarily an easy road. No caring parent is ever completely satisfied with his or her actions as a disciplinarian. Let’s face it: it just isn’t the most enjoyable part of parenting. But there are some considerations and guidelines that can help.
All normal children pass through various stages of growth. An infant is essentially helpless, an older baby might become frustrated when unable to move from place to place. A toddler is fearless and impulsive. A preschool child between the ages of three and five, is just beginning to learn self-discipline. Children generally between the ages of five and ten begin to develop understanding, recrimination for wrong-doing, and a degree of self-discipline. This becomes strained during adolescence as the tween or teen copes with the onslaught of hormonal change. By age twenty-five, we expect most young people to have achieved a modicum of self-control and social responsibility. But they don’t get there without some direction along the way.
The reason these stages are significant is that discipline, which should never be confused with punishment, needs to be appropriate to the age and development level of the child. There is really no point, for example, to punishing a baby that is less than three months of age for crying. Crying is, in fact, a healthy response and the child’s way of communicating hunger or discomfort.
Frankly, child discipline begins with the parent having self-discipline. The behavior you model is the behavior your child will imitate. Children learn far more from what you do than from what you say.[amazon_link asins='B00NQAW77K,149262988X,B01FT9X87S,B019MRSACQ,1559570733,B0177C9216,0770436595,0060936665,1576834271,0764218476' template='ProductCarousel' store='ebaby02d-20' marketplace='US' link_id='2d1fe07f-c0b3-42e4-90cc-8bed07ad3d6e']
Age 0 to Three Months
Discipline really is not an issue during these months. Growth and maturation will take care of most possible variables. One of the biggest considerations during this time for most parents is simply, “When will my little darling sleep soundly through the night?”
The answer, of course, is when your little one’s system is sufficiently mature to take in enough nourishment to be able to comfortably sleep for more than three or four hours at a time. There are things you can do to encourage night-time, or on your schedule sleeping:
Dim the lights in the room during sleep time
Feed, change and cuddle, but do not play with your child at this time.
Model sleeping, not playing video games, talking loudly or other activities
Three Months to Six Months
Your baby begins to develop self-will. He or she will develop likes and dislikes, demand attention as well as food and comfort, and toward the end of this time begin to develop a dislike of being stuck in one place. There aren’t very many things that can’t be coped with by simply letting the youngster have preferences, but one of the biggest is biting while nursing. It is probably one of the first disciplinary measures the mother will need to address, and with good reason: it hurts.
The corrective measure is simple. If your baby decides to try out those shiny new teeth on mama’s nipple, stop nursing immediately. Say “No,” in a firm, calm voice and put your baby back in his crib or a similarly safe place and walk away. If he has broken the skin, clean the area and put a cleansing, baby safe ointment on the bite. Give yourself some time to calm down. Being bitten invokes primitive responses in anyone, even a parent. Finish nursing your infant, if you believe he or she is still hungry, after several minutes have passed.
One correction is often enough. Some youngsters are a little more stubborn or perhaps a little less coordinated, but usually two or three repetitions of this procedure will usually end the behavior, and your little one can and will learn to nurse without inflicting pain.
Rolling over, Crawling, Pulling Up and Walking
During this phase your baby will have no idea which things in his or her world can cause bodily harm. It is the age of frantically baby proofing your world, thinking you have it proofed, only to discover that your little angel is an ingenious little demon who is bent on breaking, tearing and destroying your precious things. Furthermore, he or she has an affinity for forks and light sockets, tasting or chewing the indigestible, inspecting toilets and mop buckets, and climbing into places where you have no idea how he or she managed to scale the heights.
Things Not to Do
Here is a news bulletin: no matter how upsetting your infant’s activities might be, shaking, smacking hands, or spanking really are not your best responses. Yelling will produce absolutely nothing except that your child will learn early-on how to ignore your voice.
What to Do
Your best approach is to say, “No!” in a firm, moderately loud voice, remove your child from the hazardous situation, and place your baby dearest in a secure place, such as a deep walled playpen. You can even relieve your feelings by saying firmly, “That is something you should never, never do. You are now in Time Out!” There is a good chance that temper crying and possibly even some tears will ensue but hold your ground. Go clean up whatever it was that broke or got torn up. Allow about three to five minutes of tearful protests before you comfort your now very upset baby.
After a few repeats of this, your “No!” should cause your child to at least hesitate before plunging into whatever mischief has been found.
Won’t He or She Just do It Again?
That really depends on the child. Some youngsters are more strong-willed than others. Some have shorter memories. It also depends on the activity. Some things are just a lot more fun than others. The more enjoyable the activity, the harder it is going to be to prevent the behaviour. If you can, after the disciplinary action, offer an alternative that is more fun, you will have a better chance for success. Sometimes you just have to be more stubborn than your child.
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
Consistency is the key to good discipline. If it is wrong today, it is wrong tomorrow. If it is forbidden today, it is forbidden tomorrow. If you have to eat your vegetables and protein before having an apple today, then that rule should apply tomorrow. No amount of saying no or setting your child in time out will work if today he or she is in trouble for playing with the china tea set, and tomorrow you bring it out and encourage playing with it.
All Siblings Abide by the Same Rules
While you might make allowances for age, every child in your household should have to abide by the same set of rules. These might include things like “Hands to self,” “Respect other people’s stuff,” “Eat your vegetables,” “Do your chores,” and “Refrain from self-destructive behaviour.” Keep your rules few and keep them reasonable. Hold “Because I said so,” for the absolute last-ditch argument. Eventually, you are likely to have to use it – but remember, like salt, it should be applied sparingly.
A Last Word About Time Out
Time out not only gives your child time to realize he or she has misbehaved, but also gives you time to cool down. Being placed in a crib or playpen works for the littlest ones. A special chair in a special place works for older children who understand that they are to remain in that spot for a specific amount of time. For school age children, being sent to their room is a reasonable response. Do they have toys and other things there? Perhaps. But it is still a time for both parties to reflect on what has just happened.
The example you set is the most important part of disciplining your child. Under pressure, humans tend to lash out. If you have a rule against hitting, but you spank your child or smack hands, you are setting a “do as I say, not as I do” example. Redirecting behaviour is essential for the well-being of your child. Hearing your firm, “No!” and obeying could be lifesaving.
Setting a good example is essential. He or she who would discipline others, must first discipline him or herself.
Rational Argument from Older Children
Consistency is important in child rearing, but you can allow rational argument from older children. This is not to be confused with whining or temper tantrums. But even though you are the parent, there are times when you realize that you have made a mistake. Discussion should be allowable, as long as it does not endanger your child, yourself or others. Your “no,” however, should always create a time-out in whatever activity is underway. You can always say no first then listen afterward.
Parenting is Not an Exact Science
Parenting is not an exact science. Every child is different, every parent is different. What works for one might not work for another. But there are some things that work better than others. Therefore, keep these things in mind:
When you discipline, do it for the sake of the child’s well-being.
- Model the behavior you expect.
- Be firm.
- Be consistent.
- Listen. Allow yourself room to change your mind but be sure to explain why you are relenting.
- If you have to fall back on, “Because I am the parent and I said so,” try not to do it often. It is a feeble crutch but might sometimes be the only explanation you are free to offer.
Love isn’t all you need to be a good parent or a firm, reasonable disciplinarian. But it is a good place to start.
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