The First Time You Say "No" to Your Baby

How one mom learns to discipline her infant.

The Birth of Discipline

Whenever my 1-year-old, Luke, is near rocks, he shovels them into his mouth. And when he sees our cat, he likes to lunge, even though the cat likes to swipe and hiss.

Setting limits, reinforcing good behavior, and discouraging less-desirable behavior can start when your child is a baby. "There are things that even infants have to learn not to do, like pulling your hair," says Judith Myers-Walls, PhD, associate professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University. Of course, babies are somewhat limited when it comes to language comprehension, memory, and attention spans, so it's best to focus on damage control rather than trying to teach an actual lesson.

Distracting (helping him move from a not-so-good activity to something better) and ignoring (just what the name implies) are two very effective strategies. If, for example, your 4-month-old discovers how much fun it is to yank your hair, gently take his hand, give it a kiss, and redirect it toward something more baby-friendly, like a rattle.

In other instances, ignoring will do the trick. Of course, you never want to ignore a behavior that could be dangerous, but it's smart to simply look the other way when your 7-month-old cheerfully pelts his 59th Cheerio from his high chair. Very young children are utterly guileless; your cereal pitcher isn't trying to annoy you. He's learning the important concept of cause and effect. Sure, these behaviors can be frustrating, but your best bet is to stay calm and carry on with what you were doing.

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