The thought of disciplining an infant may seem ridiculous or even wrong. How can an infant, of all people, be held accountable for actions such as tugging his mother’s hair?
Yet every time a baby reaches up to tug his mother’s hair and she gently removes his grasp, or when he puts an unsafe object to his mouth and she intervenes, that’s setting limits. That’s redirecting.
In other words, that’s discipline.
Discipline often has a negative connotation. Its association with punishment makes babies and discipline seem somehow paradoxical. But if we really explore the definition, we will realize that discipline is about teaching our children how to act in a socially acceptable way.
And discipline starts from day one.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should provide generally structured daily routines for their infants but also learn to recognize and respond flexibly to the infant’s needs. As infants become more mobile and initiate more contact with the environment, we must also impose limitations and structure to create safe spaces for them to explore and play.
There are long-term benefits to this. Children need to learn that while it’s okay to acknowledge their emotions, they also want to control their reactions. It’s important that they understand the way the world works and their place in it. By teaching positive discipline, we’re helping our children learn to behave so they’ll know what to do and how to behave when they become adults and when we’re not there to guide them.
Plus, it’ll make the babysitter’s job much easier when you have a night out!
When we think about discipline as a teachable moment and not necessarily a punishable one, we’re more likely to help our children learn and succeed. Discipline is really about everything that we do, say and teach our children.
Discipline is raising our kids.
First steps in infant discipline
Just about every parent knows that a newborn communicates by crying. That’s how he tells us that he’s hungry or wet or doesn’t feel well. Maybe he’s just seeking the attention and touch of a loving parent.
Each time we respond to the baby’s cries we are reinforcing his behavior of learning to communicate. In other words, we’re disciplining the baby. For an infant, discipline is comprised of consistently and responsively meeting his needs. Infant discipline is also about creating a strong attachment between you and your child. A positive parent-child relationship will provide the basic trust your child needs to help him comply when you tell him he shouldn’t do something and encourage his desire to want to please you.
While a good chunk of infant care revolves around physical caretaking responsibilities such as feeding, sleeping and diapering, your child’s infancy provides a great time in which to connect with your new baby. You can talk to your baby and even laugh with him and begin teaching him about the world. The two of you can also just enjoy each other’s company.
Here are some basic discipline tips for you and your infant.
Love your infant
This seems obvious, but just keep in mind that children grow and learn best in an environment in which they feel loved and secure. Spend time playing and snuggling with your infant and getting to know one another.
Respond to your infant’s needs
It’s important for new parents to establish a general routine. This is especially beneficial for older infants. That said, please note that it’s impossible to spoil a newborn. You’re not being a bad parent if you decide to pick up and comfort your crying infant. He might just be hungry or need a hug!
Create a “Yes” environment
If your baby is constantly playing with the soil in the potted plant, consider relocating or even removing that plant. Yes, children need to learn the word “No,” but there are just so many opportunities for that when you’re an infant. Focus instead on creating a “Yes” and trouble-free environment by anticipating and preventing dangerous situations. Move breakable objects to higher shelves and put baby-proof gates near the stairs.
Ignore annoying behavior
There are times when an infant’s behavior might be annoying but ultimately unharmful. If, for example, your baby pulls everything out of your sock drawer, just take a deep breath and ignore it. Decide what’s important and what can slide.
Distract or redirect
Try to distract or redirect your baby from things you don’t want her to have or do. If she has your keys and you need them, don’t just grab them from her. Instead, interest her in some other toy or activity. Your baby will then let go of the keys. Obviously, you’ll want to immediately take away any dangerous objects if she has one, but otherwise, it’s easier to get a baby started on something else than to just take something away from her.
Reward good behavior
Even infants seek approval and attention. Reward your child’s appropriate behavior with words of praise - and lots of hugs and kisses. Your attention is your baby’s most important reward, so use it to encourage positive behavior.
Give the freedom to explore within limits
Your baby needs the freedom to explore, but she also needs limits, and you need good judgment to provide both. Babies who are kept in playpens and high chairs for most of the day have too little freedom and are too limited. Spending time on the floor, for example, is a great way to give babies the freedom to play and explore movement - within the confines of a safe environment, of course.
Throughout all of this, it’s important to remember that while disciplining a child starts on day one, it certainly doesn’t all happen in one day. Our goals as parents should be to lovingly guide our children into maturity. This is a long journey that requires a lot of patience and reminding, but it’s well worth the effort.