In my years working as parenting consultant – I have seen that most parents are frightened of the word ‘Discipline’.
The reason for this is that in most cases they think that ‘Discipline = Punishment’.
And because they can’t bear to punish their babies – they hesitate to discipline them. They tell themselves “My baby is too little for discipline”.
Because of the lack of discipline their children soon start behaving in a way that is not acceptable. And they are then compelled to punish them.
The punishment leads to rebellion in the form of tantrums and anger. This makes the parents angry. They shout – the child shouts back – and the whole family gets stuck in a vicious cycle of despair.
What is discipline?
Discipline comes from the word Disciple.
When you discipline your child, you teach them skills that will help them thrive in the world.
How to start with discipline for your baby
Months 0 – 4
- Attend promptly to your baby’s needs.
Discipline is a request you make – asking your baby to behave differently.
Your baby will comply with your request only when they see you as a warm supporting person who attends to their needs.
In the first 4 months immediately attend to your baby’s crying to build this warm supporting relationship.
- Build routines
Babies feel secure when they know what to expect next. And when they are secure, they behave better.
- Keep your word
It is impossible to achieve discipline through control.
You discipline your baby with the expectation that they will eventually be able to self-regulate. You want to trust, your baby to behave well.
However, before you expect trust – you must be trustworthy yourself. Keep your word.
If you say, “Wait a minute – I am coming.” Make sure you are there in a minute.
Months 5 – 8
- Teach empathy
Babies are born thinking that the world revolves around them. Slowly introduce your baby to the viewpoint of other people and how we are all linked by our actions.
Start making requests like – “Can you please lie still for a minute so that I can put on your diaper?”
- Input determines output
Behave the way you want your child to behave.
If you want your child to be polite, start saying please, sorry and thank you.
- Tell them what to do
When you tell your baby “Don’t do that”, also make sure you tell them what to do instead.
Months 9 – 12
- Avoid saying “NO”
The word “no” must be reserved for situations that threaten your baby’s safety.
Make your house baby – safe so that you never need to stop your baby from doing things.
- Give them control
When babies have no control over the world around them, they find unacceptable ways to exercise control.
They stop eating, they don’t sleep, or they start shouting.
Give them some control. Ask “Do you want to eat a little more?” If they say “no”, listen to them.
- Allow them to contribute
Everyone feels better when they can contribute.
Your baby wants to contribute too. Give them a chance.
Say “Can you please pass me the diaper?” “Thank you so much! You always help me so much.”
In the early years, your baby is still learning about the world. Teach your baby the ways of the world gently. Do not get upset if you have to repeat what you expect over and over again. And ensure that your expectations are age appropriate.
Remember – your baby wants to behave well. Follow the steps above and help your baby be their best.
Dr. Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD
Dr. Debmita Dutta is a practicing doctor, a parenting consultant, a published parenting author and the founder of the website WPA whatparentsask.com – She is based in Bangalore and conducts online and offline Parenting workshops at schools and corporate organizations. She also conducts online and offline prenatal classes for expecting parents and infant care classes for new parents.