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When to Start Disciplining Your Child

When to Start Disciplining Your Child

A mom in the Circle of Moms' January 2010 Babies community asks a question we've all likely faced: Am I spoling my 14-month-old if I distract him when he's having a tantrum? Should I discipline him instead?

Perhaps the best answer for each of us lies in our personal definitions of "discipline." If discipline is the equivalent of punishment, then 14 months is too early. Several Circle of Moms members say that punitive measures shouldn't begin before age two, and experts, such as Drs. William and Martha Sears, agree. They believe that by the age of two, most kids understand the concept of time-out. But in order for a timeout to work (i.e., change your child's behavior), then you must also offer lots of "time in," meaning lots of positive reinforcement before and after, along with clearly defined parameters. Time out should be brief (one minute per year of age), and it should be completely over when it's over — start with a fresh attitude once the time is up.

Discipline Means "Train," Not Punish

If however, your concept of "discipline" is broader, as is mine, then it's possible to think of it as teaching — or training your child for the future — and this can begin at any age. Heather H. points out that ignoring behavior can be a form of discipline. She never yells at her daughter, but she will often change the expression on her face or her tone of voice when her 13-month-old is touching something she isn't supposed to, or doing something dangerous, like climbing. Heather argues that consistency is key, and this is true for all habits, both the ones we want to change and the ones we want to reinforce.



Another technique I've learned from my 28-month-old's Montessori teachers is swiftness of response. If you are going to react to something your child does, do it immediately. If you don't then he might not get the connection between the behavior and your response. I witnessed one of Olin's teachers give him approximately five seconds to get down from a picnic table before she intervened and helped him down. He could've done this on his own, but there's no guarantee he would've, and decisive action makes it clear that something is not okay.

Trial and Error

The answer as to when to start also depends on your child. Up until recently, Natasha N.'s 14-month-old daughter responded to simple negative commands, but now when she says "no," a tantrum invariably ensues. Emily H.'s daughter of the same age responds well to these requests. You'll know you need to switch gears when your current method stops working. But then what?

As my son develops more reasoning ability, I use language more. Last week, he kept trying to sit in one of our laps at dinner table, and I said to him, "Whose lap do you sit on at the lunch table at school?" "Nobody's," he replied, and miraculously went back to his chair. 

Kids need to understand boundaries, but they also need to know that you love them, even when they doing something they shouldn't be. A lot of challenging behavior in toddlers results from their growing independence, which does not always keep pace with their abilities. When Olin wants to use a sharp knife to cut his food, for instance, I tell him, "This is Mama's work," invoking the idea for him that each person has his or her own work (another Montessori concept). Even though he understands this, and practices it daily at school, he can still become frustrated. Empathy goes a long way. If I tell him I know he's upset and ask him if he needs a hug, often this will prevent a bigger meltdown.

As Circle of Moms member Emily H. wisely says, kids at this age are beginning to test their own limits, and will be for awhile!

What discipline methods worked best with your toddler-aged child? When did you have to shift gears?


Image Source: Courtesy of o5com via Flickr/Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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