Parenting In Focus: Discipline should begin early

When most of us think about discipline we don’t usually think of disciplining infants. However, as your child turns one, it is appropriate to begin thinking about teaching your child self-control.

Remember that discipline is a teaching tool; it is not punishment. Just as you do not wait until your child is ready for school to begin reading books with him, now is the time to begin teaching limits.

At this young age, discipline techniques may include the following:

• Ignoring the behavior (Pretend he didn’t do anything wrong.)

• Distracting him (Give him another toy while taking away what you don’t want him to have.)

• Changing the scenery (Take him for a walk or a ride.)

• Making the environment safer (This means baby proofing by putting away your nice breakable vases to a high shelf.)

If you begin setting limits about what is acceptable and what isn’t from an early age, when he is older he will know you have expectations for how he will behave.

One of the most significant issues about discipline happens when your little one enters preschool. Here there is sometimes hitting, shoving and even biting among the children. One child may be the problem. It can be upsetting if this one is your child.

Here are some things you can do to improve his behavior:

• Work with his teachers to find a solution.

• Don’t be defensive. Be open to making changes in the way you deal with his behavior.

• Try to find out what triggers his outbursts and avoid those situations.

• Give him lots of praise for his good behavior.

• Read books with him that teach appropriate ways of playing with other children such as “Hands are Not for Hitting” by Martine Agassi, “Try and Make Me!” by Ray Levy and Bill O’Hanlon, or “Mom’s Guide to Disciplining Your Child” by Vicki Poretta and Ericka Lutz. There are many choices of books that deal with discipline issues.

• Consider alternatives before his behavior gets worse. Maybe a shorter time at a smaller home day care, or with a nanny or a family member will work better.

• Be honest about the problem if you change day care. Work with them on how to deal with him if the problem happens again.

Inappropriate behaviors of your child need to be dealt with if he is 1 or 5. Find out what works by trying different techniques. It is well worth taking the time in the early years. Read a book, talk to others, figure out early what you should do to make things better.

Things won’t get better if you don’t take action to make that happen.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.