When to Start Discipline & How to Do It
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I grew up as the eldest kid in both my family and the circle of friends that we socialised with. As a result, I was able to take note of the many ways that parents raised their children.
Each family had their own unique method of disciplining their children. One thing that they all had in common was that they loved and nurtured them.
There is no one way to do anything when it comes to parenting. Mainly because one of our main responsibilities is to evaluate each of our children and respond to their individual needs.
However, if you’re a first-time mom (or parent) then you might be wondering when the right time is to start implementing discipline?
I’ve written about toddler discipline a couple of times, but I’ve never broached the subject of when exactly the right time is to begin.
Should you be disciplining your baby? How about your toddler?
That’s what this post is about. Keep reading to find out when discipline should start, what it should look like, and tips for making it work.
1) When to Start
I’ve heard all sorts of answers in reply to this question.
Seriously, everything ranging from “when they’re in the womb” to “never“.
Honestly, I feel as though in order to answer this question, the definition of discipline needs to be further explored. The Oxford dictionary defines discipline as:
The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.
The concept of disciplining your children has become a bit of a taboo subject these days. When scrolling through Pinterest I often see pins with a title along the lines of “30 Ways to Say ‘No’ to your Toddler without Actually Saying ‘No'”.
And I get it because the power struggles that take place with toddlers can be utterly exhausting. I also understand the concept of respecting your child. There has certainly been a lot of disrespect and disregard for the feelings of children.
However, I personally believe that discipline is not only necessary for our children but also a very good thing. When done correctly, it is done in love and in a way that teaches, corrects, and still provides respect to all parties.
So, when should it be started?
For our family, it often starts around the 9th month of our children’s lives. That isn’t a set number, but in general, it is when our children start to become quite mobile and begin to explore their world.
While all of that is exciting, it also means that there become more safety issues, and that is why discipline is something that is necessary.
2) How to Discipline
You should discipline in whatever way works for your family. But, let’s be clear. When people ask this question it is most commonly asked in relation to what method of punishment you should use.
For us, discipline is made up of so much more than just punishment. Punishment is one aspect of discipline, but it is only a part of it and not the end goal.
I don’t like to punish my children. It isn’t fun. However, it is an important part of a process that we go through in order to teach them.
So, how should you discipline your child? I would suggest doing some research. Talk to friends, family, and other trusted people in your life.
Perhaps reach out to a family that you have observed and ask what they do.
Much of the way in which we discipline has to do with our faith. For us, disciplining our children isn’t just about teaching them to behave a certain way. Instead, it is an attempt to win their hearts and turn them towards the Saviour that they very much need.
While I won’t speak to the nature of the punishment that you choose to implement, I will suggest a few ingredients that are an important part of the disciplining process.
Clear communication is a must. Your child needs to know what is expected of them, even when they are less than a year old. Don’t underestimate their level of comprehension.
Prompt action. When your children are young they will forget things quickly. There’s no point in delaying discipline. You need to deal with the issue there and then in order for it to be effective.
A conversation. Whenever we discipline we always have a conversation with our children. We address the behaviour and why it wasn’t appropriate. In our home, we also often use Scripture and point them to what Christ says. I understand that this won’t be what every family does, but regardless of your beliefs, a conversation should take place.
Punishment alone might change the behaviour, but you won’t win the heart of your child. In fact, you run at great risk of doing the exact opposite.
Punishment. Whatever you feel is appropriate, the punishment should take place during the discipline process.
Consistency. I’ll address this further below, but for now please know that being consistent with your child will go an awful long way. It also shows a great amount of respect for them.
3) Having the Right Expectations
You would be forgiven for thinking that discipline isn’t working if your baby continues to repeat the same behaviours over and over again. I’m fairly sure all parents question their methods. That’s not a bad thing, but I do want you to step back and first look at your expectations.
They really will influence how the whole process goes.
Your attitude as the parent goes a long way towards how your child feels and behaves. If you discipline out of frustration and anger, the entire point is lost.
Having the right expectations can really help with your mindset and attitude towards everything. For instance, when your children are little it should be expected that they are going to disobey. It should also be expected that a baby is going to explore and touch things that he shouldn’t.
Having those expectations will lessen your frustration as you’re preempting their behaviour.
Another thing that I’ve found so important in my parenting journey to date is not to take my children’s behaviour personally. Of course, there are always some exceptions, but for the most part, your child’s behaviour belongs to them. It isn’t something that you should take as a personal attack.
I should also note that while yes, it is normal for children to test boundaries, it doesn’t mean that you just let it be. Discipline is partly about correction. Yes, it is okay and normal for babies to try to play with light sockets. However, allowing that behaviour to continue just because it is normal would be irresponsible.
So, adjust your expectations. Realise that your child is going to test boundaries and that their behaviour won’t change overnight. That doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong.
4) Achieving Balance
This is something I talk about more in this post –> 5 Tips for Achieving Balance with Toddler Discipline
It’s something that is important to take into consideration, especially with young children that are not able to fully communicate yet.
You as the parent need to evaluate how tired your child is, if they’re hungry, or if they are perhaps sick. Setting boundaries and disciplining your child is important, but it needs to be seasoned with grace.
We all appreciate some empathy when we behave out of character because we’re not feeling the greatest. Keep in mind that babies and toddlers have limited ways in which to communicate. They’re still learning impulse control.
Bad behaviour and disobedience are never okay, but at times your response will require more conversation and less punishment. It isn’t all just black and white.
5) The Importance of Consistency
I’m not of the mindset that children know better than adults. Yes, they often see things more simply and can upstage us. However, for the most part, they are still in great need of a lot of directing.
It is important to note that children do deserve our respect.
You can still teach your children to be mindful of authority without treating them as inferior.
One way to ensure that respect is by remaining consistent.
It may sound simple, but in truth, remaining consistent with discipline can be utterly exhausting. Especially if you have more than one child.
However, it is vitally important to make it a priority. It is disrespectful and unfair to your child to set up boundaries that have flexible walls. They’re never quite sure how far they can push them before they’ll bounce back.
Equally, it will lead to more frustration and a potentially angry outburst from you. We’ve all been there, repeating the same instruction over and over until we snap in anger.
Be respectful towards your child and be consistent with your expectations of them. You won’t regret it.