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Many parents think discipline isn’t necessary until Baby becomes a toddler.
The truth is, all discipline starts with your relationship with your child – and that starts on Day 1!
Figuring out how to discipline your baby should begin the day they’re born, if not sooner. Discipline a natural extension of your relationship with Baby, after all.
Some might argue your relationship with your child starts even before they’re born, but we’ll stick with Day 1 for purposes of this discussion.
You’re probably not thinking about disciplining Baby for kicking you in the womb, right? (At least, we hope you’re not!)
Below are the best ways we’ve found to discipline your baby while maintaining a healthy, loving relationship. Hitting creates fear. If you’re looking to establish a fear-based relationship with your little one, this post is not for you.
How to Discipline your Baby
1. Reset your expectations.
“A baby’s job is to learn about his world. As a parent, your job is to keep your baby safe, and this can be done without spanking and harsh discipline. “ // PositiveParentingConnection.net
This first step is to think of “discipline” as guiding Baby, not doing something to punish her when she’s been bad. Discipline, or guidance, should be proactive, not reactive.
Set yourself up for success by guiding Baby away from the things that could get her into trouble with you. This goes beyond common baby proofing.
If there are things you don’t want Baby to touch, even if they’re not safety hazards – PUT THEM OUT OF REACH!
For example, if Baby playing with the books on your bookshelf irritates you, MOVE THE BOOKS!
Put them in a closet. Move them higher and out of reach. Store them in a locked room. Do whatever you have to so Baby doesn’t keep making you angry and you don’t have to keep scolding your child.
BABIES AND TODDLERS ARE MADE TO EXPLORE. TO GRAB EVERYTHING. THEY MUST. THEY HAVE TO.
As much as they feel the urge to laugh and cry, they feel the urge to grab things. Most of the time you just won’t be able to stop them. And if you want to raise a courageous, inquisitive human being you don’t want to.
Let’s be clear Momma – if you’re scolding Baby over and over for grabbing at something that’s often within reach (a power cord, a dirty shoe, etc.) your expectations are unreasonable. Instead, put it out of reach!
If you don’t want Baby to play with something, don’t give her access to it. It’s not Baby’s responsibility to stop exploring. It’s your responsibility to keep her safe – from physical dangers, and from the danger of your anger.
2. Connect Connect Connect
According to Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting:
“Remember that children misbehave when they feel bad about themselves and disconnected from us.”
Notice when your little one “misbehaves.” It’s probably during a time when she’s feeling disconnected from you. Are you on your phone? Making dinner? Talking to another adult?
Obviously, none of these things are bad. These moments are just hard for the youngest of children because their safety, security, and survival are all tied up in their connection with you. Losing that connection can be scary, even terrifying, which can cause panic, fear, frustration, and the inability to hear you when you say “No.”
Note that they’re not “doing stuff just to get attention.” They literally can’t hear your guidance and instructions over their fear and anxiety.
If you really need them to stop doing something, connect first!
Below are Dr. Markham’s suggestions on how to connect (from her post “How to Use Peaceful Parenting.”):
- Stoop down to her level and look her in the eye: “You want your brother to move, so you pushed him. No pushing; pushing hurts! Tell your brother, ‘Move please!'”
- Pick her up: “You wish you could play longer but it’s time for bed.”
- Make loving eye contact: “You are so upset right now.”
- Put your hand on her shoulder: “You’re scared to tell me about the cookie.”
3. Play … especially outdoors.
Babies and toddlers are energetic, physical beings. They need to use their energy. Otherwise, it gets pent up and they’ll likely find destructive ways to release all their built up energy.
Take babies for walks outside in a carrier, and let toddlers run around where they can safely play.
Bonding with them while they play, or simply walking with them outside in a carrier, helps develop the parent-child bond and leads to a more cooperative child…one that’s more willing to listen.
It helps prevent the buildup of stress and frustration from not being able to dispel their active energy.
4. Say NO calmly and with empathy BEFORE your anger builds.
As the parent, and the adult, you are responsible for your own emotions. Emotional regulation is something you should have learned as you grew into an adult.
If emotion regulation is not one of your stronger skills, get help. It’s like a muscle. Start using it and developing it regularly and you’ll get better and better at it.
Your children depend on you to manage your emotions. They can’t manage them for you (Heck! Babies and toddlers can’t even manage their own!).
They also can’t stand on their heads in enough ways to make you happy. Your happiness is YOUR responsibility, not theirs.
Just like your anger is YOUR responsibility to manage and tame. It’s not Baby’s responsibility to tiptoe around you and change all her behaviors just so she doesn’t make you angry.
If you find yourself getting angry often, find some tools that help you manage it. Even better, practice some mindfulness and catch your anger long before it bubbles over into scolding or spanking.
That way, when Baby starts doing something that irritates you you’ll be able to feel the irritation right away and set the boundary (with empathy!) long before you start screaming or spanking.
Why empathy? As Dr. Markham says:
“Of course you need to enforce your rules. But you can also acknowledge her perspective. When kids feel understood, they’re more able to accept our limits.” // AhaParenting.com
Set yourself up for success by stopping the emotional train long before it crashes and explodes into yelling, screaming, or hitting.
5. Use TIME IN.
If you’ve ever wondered what unconditional love must feel like, now’s your chance to practice it!
Almost all parents want to love their children unconditionally. They just don’t know how.
Well, here’s the first step. Unconditional love means NEVER using what Dr. Markham calls “love withdrawal” tactics to control, punish, or manipulate their children.
What does that mean to you as a parent wanting to express unconditional love? It means not creating a fear-based relationship with threats, yelling, or hitting.
It also means not using “Time Outs,” which are basically you telling your child, “You did this bad thing and now you’re having these strong emotions (crying, screaming) so I’m going to put you in a corner, take my love and guidance and safety and security away, and leave you ALONE.”
That sounds awfully dramatic, doesn’t it? Well, it is dramatic. Especially for a tiny child who knows they can’t survive without you.
Guess what Baby’s biggest fear is – abandonment!
By stepping away from her and leaving her alone (for any reason other than you’re too angry and may harm her if you don’t step away), you’ve basically forced your tiny child to confront her biggest fear.
When’s the last time you faced your biggest fear? Easy, right? No, probably not.
So exercise that empathy muscle and remind yourself that when Baby expresses strong emotions by crying, screaming, hitting, kicking, or “misbehaving,” she’s desperately longing for connection with you.
Sit with her. Hold her. Get close to her when she’s acting out. Give her a safe space to express her emotions, and show her that you’re not afraid. That you can handle any emotion she throws at you.
Of course, if you’re not comfortable with your own emotions this could be very, very hard for you. If that’s the case, what better time to learn than right now, with your child?
Most importantly, take a breath. Before yelling or spanking, pause. Breathe. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Is this the parent I choose to be? Is this the kind of relationship I choose to build?”
If the answers are “no,” try any or all of these tips and learn how to discipline your baby a different way. It’ll be hard at first, but with time, practice, and commitment you can become the unconditionally loving parent you always hoped you would be.
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