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Disciplining Children? Start Early!
July 13, 2012 by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu
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Disciplining Children? Start Early!

A toddler throws a flower-vase, breaking it into pieces; another scribbles with crayons on the drawing room-wall and then there is one who bites other people when angry. In all three cases, the parents keep watching their erring wards with a bemused expression. Sounds familiar? Yes, these are common scenes in today’s homes. Are these problem children or are these parents right to ignore these problems as ‘Oh, it’s just their age. They are too small to understand!”?

The answer to both these questions is same and that is ‘No.’ The small children who are doing these acts are certainly not problem children, at least not yet but no, these are not the problems that should be ignored by parents. In fact, in all probability such occurrences happening regularly at homes reflect on the confused attitude of an increasing population of new-age parents who have not correctly understood the concept of ‘Discipline’.


Discipline is essential

Discipline as a word has traditionally been associated with a bitter after-taste of verbal and even physical punishments and a power- struggle about controlling how a thing should be done and shouldn’t be done. Present generation parents were once children themselves and they had once faced this power struggle with their own parents. Carrying the memories of their ‘harsher’, ‘stricter’ upbringing in their mind; now many of them decide to go for a ‘softer’, ‘friendlier’ approach as parents. In principle, it certainly it is a laudable concept but in reality often it ends up horribly wrong because such soft, friendly approach is mostly put into practice as ‘No discipline at all’ approach.

Whether one likes it or not, discipline is an essential part of life and it is something which needs to be taught and instilled into psyche right from very early in life. Parents aren’t going to need this concept in first six months of infancy when the baby is likely to indulge in just two main activities- feeding and sleeping. Once this age-limit crosses, then the parents are bound to see noticeable changes in their baby’s behaviour. With every passing week, the baby is acquiring increasing ability to master his own environment. Increasing mobility, exploring nearby things and refusing to obey parental commands (especially at feeding times) now starts becoming a new routine for this growing baby and now is the correct time for introducing the concept of discipline.


Simple Approach:

At such young age, the baby is not going to understand the complex commands or the logic behind any decision but one thing, the baby learns to understand very soon is what act of theirs makes their parents smile and praise them. Parental appreciation is the cornerstone of child psychology and that appreciation should be used as a tool for discipline.

Throwing away a bottle or a spoon; making a mess with food or pulling at the wires of TV and VCR are often the first acts of this rebel baby. A simple, firm ‘No’ with an obvious facial expression of disapproval when he is doing something wrong and to say ‘Yes’ with a pleased expression when he stops doing that is the way to begin with. Yes, the baby isn’t going to immediately respond to it and learn to follow your commands but consistency is the key. Every time when the baby transgresses the limit and sees this negative response from his beloved mother or father, then he begins to realize the cause- effect relationship between his action and its effect. He starts understanding the concept of right and wrong behaviour through the positive or negative response of his parents to that behaviour.

Saying ‘No’ and showing their displeasure to certain baby- acts like breaking or spilling things; approaching a danger- area; touching or mouthing dangerous objects or throwing temper tantrums is a duty for the parents. In the course of that duty, it is but natural that the babies are going to cry and be unhappy momentarily. Parents who are over-permissive in order to avoid this momentary unhappiness for their baby are wasting a great opportunity to teach their little one to differentiate between good and bad behaviour.


Crying is okay

‘Keep the baby smiling’ as a parental motto is perfectly fine but many parents wrongly take its meaning as ‘Never let the baby cry’. This is an attitude which often results in letting the baby do whatever he wishes to do. Inadvertently these parents are fostering a sense of ‘Whatever I do is never ever going to be wrong or unacceptable to others’ in their baby’s mind.

If your kid cries because you have not accepted his negative behaviour, you shouldn’t feel guilty because it is good for him in the longer run. Every such crying/ disappointment episode after a negative behaviour is teaching the baby an important lesson in life and that is ‘Not everything in life is going to go your way and you have to be ready for rejection and dejection, too.’ So every such crying episode is in fact making your kid emotionally stronger and teaching him the wisdom of following certain rules and regulations.


Don’t misuse authority

As parents you certainly have the power to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ but as the Spiderman says, “With power, comes responsibility.” How to exercise these powers is the key to successful parenting.

  • When the baby is small, try to keep the environment free of ‘No’ objects such as plugs, wires or other dangerous objects.
  • As your child grows in age, he starts understanding the logic behind your positive and negative command, so make sure that your commands are consistent in their logic and execution. Permitting a certain things at one time and objecting to them at other times is going to confuse your kid as to what he should do in certain situations.
  • Clearly define your set of rules regarding issues like food habits, school work, language usage, playing activity, TV viewing, pocket-money and bed-time.
  • As your kid grows in age, be considerate to his changing emotional needs and growing independence and modify the rules as necessary.
  • Don’t try to contradict or undermine the authority of your spouse by questioning his/ her decision in front of the child. Discuss any contentious issues in private.
  • Discipline is not only about criticism of bad behaviour; it is also about an appreciation of good behaviour.
  • Parents are the role models for children; so practice what you preach.


Physical punishment has been proved to have no use in terms of correcting a wrong behaviour, in fact it just sends a wrong signal that it is okay to hit. Sometimes it leads to repetition of negative acts as a means of attention-seeking. More than the physical harm such punishment causes, it is the emotional harm that is deeper.

Verbal punishments in form of shouting or taunting can also lead to emotional scarring and usually serve no purpose.

Time-outs (at one minute per year of age) and taking away privileges (like pocket-money or TV- time or night-out) are good strategies to curb negative behaviour in kids above two years of age. Time- out gives the errant child a solitary place without distractions and a chance to cool down and think about his negative behaviour and ‘Taking away privileges’ teaches him that there is a price to pay for such behaviour.

When it comes to children’s discipline, always start early, starting late might be too late!

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