As parents, we often ask ourselves when is the right time to begin child discipline, especially when confronted with situations like my one-year-old son, Luke, who seems to have a fascination with placing rocks in his mouth. Even our cat’s swipes and hisses do not deter his playful lunges.
Every day is full with moments like these, and I’m sometimes at a loss for how to protect my son without crushing his spirit. From what I’ve seen, convincing a toddler to stop nibbling on rocks is a tall order.
Discipline methods like time-out are ineffective at this age. But what works, and when is it okay to try other strategies? Just as it’s important for kids to learn that some actions can have negative consequences, parents also need guidance on how to discipline effectively.
Although it may take some time, the result will benefit your child if done correctly.
Early Childhood Discipline
Experts recommend establishing rules, rewarding good behavior, and discouraging bad behavior in infants and toddlers. Judith Myers-Walls, Ph.D., says, “Even very young kids have to learn not to do certain things, like pull your hair.”
In the early stages, damage control is more important than real instruction because infants have poor language understanding, memory, and attention spans. Two highly effective methods are a distraction (guiding the person away from a negative activity and toward a more positive one) and ignoring (exactly what it sounds like). For instance, if your 4-month-old finds pulling your hair amusing, you may take their hand, give it a kiss, and then suggest that they try playing with a rattle instead.
While you should never turn a blind eye to unsafe actions, it’s probably best to overlook your 7-month-old’s joyful pelting of their 59th Cheerio from their high chair. Remember that toddlers and preschoolers are really innocent; that Cheerios pitcher isn’t out to get you on purpose. Infants are developing fine motor skills and understanding the relationship between actions and their outcomes. It’s crucial not to become angry or overreact to this bothersome conduct.
According to Nancy Samalin, author of Loving Without Spoiling, many parents grow annoyed when a child exhibits such tendencies. Your best bet is to keep a level head and continue with what you were doing.
Discipline Between the Ages of 8 And 12 Months
Limits should be considered when your infant begins to crawl, usually around the eighth month. Everything suddenly becomes a huge no-no, from the trinkets on your nightstand to the rolls of toilet paper under your sink.
Children this age are naturally curious and have no notion of right or wrong; if you don’t want them to play with anything, childproof it and put the spotlight on kid-friendly toys instead. Professionals say this is the most effective strategy for keeping your youngster out of trouble and facilitating more consistent rule-following.
Of course, many of us tell our kids no when we see them naughty. Unfortunately, it is not an effective form of discipline for children of this age. The tone of your voice will help your child learn that “no” has a different meaning than “I love you,” but they won’t fully grasp the difference until they’re older. Moreover, they lack the discipline to comply with your request.
Cristina Soto of New York City uses alternative methods to teach her son and daughter that certain items are off-limits. “When my daughter Sonia was about 8 or 9 months old, I would say ‘Aah aaah!’ in a playfully scary voice whenever she got close to an outlet so that she would stop and look at me,” explains Soto. I just kept doing it. She would eventually come cruising over to an electrical socket, point, and exclaim, “Aah aaah!” to me.
Discipline between the Ages of 12 and 24 Months
Your child’s verbal abilities will be developing at this time, allowing you to begin laying the groundwork for teaching him or her simple rules such as “don’t pull kitty’s tail.” You can also start saying “no” more often and with more serious intent. If used too frequently, the term could lose all of its meaning.
Your kid’s physical abilities are also starting to shine. Your newly mobile infant will be both proud of their accomplishment and disappointed that they are limited in some ways.
Here comes the temper tantrum era. Even if you need to respond quickly to a tantrum, you shouldn’t use harsher punishment methods like taking away a privilege or sending the child to his room because tantrums are a normal part of development.
When a child is having a tantrum, “you need to know your own child,” as Claire Lerner, a child development specialist, puts it. Some children respond well to distraction, while others need physical comfort. However, if a child’s tantrum lasts too long, it’s best to remove them from the environment and calmly explain why until they stop acting out.
Your toddler’s frustration with their own failure to communicate properly may manifest itself in physical aggression such as slapping or biting. In these situations, discipline should consist of a brief explanation of the rules and a firm directive to engage in more constructive pursuits. If your child slaps you because you had to change their diaper and they were having fun, try saying, “We don’t hit; it hurts,” and then offering them something else to do while you change their diaper.
Discipline Between the Ages Of 24 And 36 Months
Twos’ programs, preschool, and playdates are all fantastic ways to help your child make friends, but they can also introduce a whole new set of challenges when it comes to maintaining order at home. Sharing anything, including toys, time, or focus, might be challenging at this age. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that others (including other children) may find themselves in the path of your toy-stealing toddler.
You can now leverage the toddler’s comprehension of simple commands, empathy, and cause and effect in your punishment. For instance, if your child were to take a crayon from a playmate, you could explain, “We don’t grab toys. Billy is upset that you took his crayon,” and then hand over a substitute.
Keeping discipline for young children, such as toddlers and preschoolers, extremely straightforward is essential. Research by a psychology professor at SUNY Stony Brook, Susan G. O’Leary, Ph.D., found that short, direct reprimands were more successful than longer ones.
Mia’s mom, Susan Simmons, from South Riding, Virginia, is in agreement. When Mia turned two, I thought she could understand my lengthy explanations for why she couldn’t do certain things; I was wrong. I now simply tell her, “You can’t have one now,” whenever she requests an ice pop before supper.
Toddlers and the Use of Time-Outs
Time-outs can also be tried with children aged 24 to 36 months. When your child misbehaves, you can implement a time-out by having them sit quietly in a chair or their room for one minute per year of their age (so a 3-year-old would receive three minutes of time-out). When you announce, “time out,” they immediately stand up.
Ignoring or diverting a child is a great way to begin discipline from a young age. Limits and restrictions can be explained to children as early as their toddler years. Obviously, every child is unique, and there is no foolproof punishment technique. More experience with discipline and an understanding of limits will make life better for everyone.
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