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Disciplining an Infant: What Does That Mean?

By Bright Horizons

The thought of disciplining a child in the first year of life seems wrong or even ridiculous. Yet every time an infant reaches up to tug his mother's hair and she gently removes his grasp, or when he pulls an unsafe object to his mouth and she intervenes, that's setting limits, that's redirecting, that's guidance — and yes, that's discipline. Effective discipline is not punishment. It's teaching. Discipline really starts from day one.

What is discipline?
Discipline teaches children to develop self-control and to act in a socially acceptable way. It involves helping children acknowledge their emotions, control their reactions and understand the way the world works and their place in it. With positive discipline, parents can help their children learn to behave so that when they are not there to guide them, their children will know what to do.

When you think about discipline as a teachable moment and not simply a punishable one, you are more likely to help your children learn and succeed. Discipline is really related to everything we do, say and teach our children. It is when we say "yes" and when we say "no." It is when we intervene and when we look the other way. It's raising our children.

First steps in infant discipline
Can you spoil an infant? We don't believe so. (But both the philosophy and the practice of guiding and disciplining children are bound up in culture, religion and generations of family practice. Not everyone agrees that effective discipline begins in responsive care or that infants cannot be spoiled.) A newborn communicates by crying. That's how she tells you she's hungry or wet or doesn't feel well or just seeks the attention and touch of a loving parent or caregiver.

Each time you respond to your infant's cries, you are reinforcing her behavior of learning to communicate. You are establishing the foundation of emotional security for later self-control. Discipline begins in consistently and responsively meeting the infant's needs and creating a strong attachment between you and your child. This positive parent-child relationship will provide the basic trust your child will need to help him comply when you tell him he shouldn't do something and encourage his desire to want to please you.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the primary parental discipline for infants is to provide structured daily routines, but also to learn to recognize and respond flexibly to the infant's needs. As infants become more mobile and initiate more contact with the environment, we must also impose limitations and structure to create safe spaces for them to explore and play.

© Bright Horizons

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