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Spring 2009

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Positive Discipline
for Those Early Years

By Dr. Sandy Bailey, Family and Human Development Specialist Department of Health and Human Development, MSU

How many times have you heard, “Your life will change” with the arrival of a new baby?  Most expectant parents have heard this sage advice many times as they await the arrival of their new family member. Their life does indeed change—different schedules, new interests, and family interactions all contribute to this life altering event. 

One question many new parents have is about discipline. Although many people associate the term “discipline” as punishment, discipline means to teach or guide.  In this section, we offer helpful discipline tips for parents with infants and toddlers.

Responding to needs
Contrary to popular belief, infants cannot be spoiled by picking them up too often.  During the first year of life, babies are learning to bond with and trust their parents.  When an infant cries, he/she is trying to tell parents that something is wrong.  The infant may be tired, hungry or thirsty; she may need a diaper change or simply want a hug.  When parents respond, the infant learns that she can trust them to take care of her.  Establishing structure helps the child learn what to expect, such as when to go to bed.

Baby-proofing the house
When babies become mobile, life changes again.  A curious crawling baby can quickly get into situations that are not safe.  Rather than continually being on guard and telling an infant “no,” parents can baby-proof the house and move items out of reach.  Providing children with items they can freely explore lets them learn about their environment in a safe manner.  This strategy is a form of discipline.  Does this mean never saying “no” to a baby?  Not at all.  The strategy of baby-proofing the house is only one discipline technique.  Eventually, children need to learn what they may and may not touch.

Redirecting Attention
Another strategy for disciplining a baby or toddler is redirection.  Young children have short attention spans.  If the baby is reaching for something that she shouldn’t have, say “no” and then direct her towards a toy or something that she can play with.  Sometimes a persistent child will need to be redirected several times.

Monitoring schedules
Monitoring an infant’s or toddler’s day is also an effective discipline strategy.  Avoid taking the toddler to the grocery store when he or she is tired or hungry.  This situation practically invites misbehavior.  Save those outing for times when the child is well rested, fed, and feeling okay.  Young children tell time by routine, not by the clock.  Try to keep the child’s schedule as consistent as possible.

Parenting an infant or toddler is an exciting time of new discoveries as well as challenges.  Parents who experience frustration are wise to use the old adage of “counting to ten” to gain self-control.  Under no circumstances should you ever shake a child.

Positive discipline can provide the solid foundation children need to learn how to monitor their own behavior as they grow.  With patience and consistency, your love and careful guidance are bound to achieve positive results.

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