Although discipline means “to teach or guide,” the term is unfortunately often associated with punishment. Prior to the age of two a child is not yet developmentally ready to comprehend the two essential elements necessary to enforce appropriate behavior: the desire to please parents, and the ability to remember consequences. However, parents can begin laying a good disciplinary foundation to insure their children become competent, caring and contributing members of society. What is infant discipline?
Discipline for infants can be divided into four general categories:
- Responding to needs – During the first year of life, babies are learning to bond with and trust their parents. A baby’s cries are the way they tell parents, “I need something!” Contrary to popular belief, infants cannot be spoiled by picking them up too often. When a parent responds promptly and consistently, an infant learns they can trust mom or dad to take care of them. This is how a child knows they are wanted and loved.
- Establishing predictable routines – A structured routine is NOT the same thing as a schedule. Trying to force an infant to conform to a time-table schedule that does not take into account their particular needs and temperament can be extremely frustrating for parents as well as the infant. Each child is unique and comes equipped with their own individual set of cues and signals. As parents, it is our job to watch for these signals and respond accordingly. Soon we will see a pattern emerging and can structure a predictable routine where baby thrives.
- Planning ahead – If we are diligent and perceptive we can avoid many episodes of frustration. Infants do not ‘misbehave’ on purpose. Developmentally they do not possess the self- control necessary to deal with the anxiety that accompanies unmet needs. Getting ‘in tune’ with your child provides you with insight and strategies that will allow you to plan activities and run errands at the most suitable time. Save those outings for times when your child is well rested, fed and feeling good.
- Baby-proofing the house – Your baby learns about the world with all five senses! Touching, tasting, seeing and listening provide your child with the sensory stimulation necessary for proper brain development. Safely guiding your child’s need to explore and experiment is accomplished by childproofing the house so he can’t harm himself or household items. It also makes it easier on you because you do not have to constantly tell your baby, “no”. Does this mean you should never deny your infant anything he wants to explore? Of course not. In time he will learn what he can and cannot touch. Redirection, repetition and consistency are the means by which this task is accomplished! Infants have a very short attention span. If your child is reaching for something he shouldn’t, say “no” and then direct him towards something he can play with. Persistent infants will need to be redirected several times, but be patient and consistent and your baby will get the message that the item or area is off-limits. Remember if you say, “no” to something once, it must be denied each and every time. Children thrive on predictability and you both will be much happier if the boundaries you establish are maintained.