When to Start Disciplining Your Baby

It’s not always clear when your baby is ready and aware enough to be disciplined. So how do you find the right time to start?


You bring home your sweet bundle of joy and just can’t get enough of him or her. You take in every moment, savor all those cuddles. But eventually, your sweet and innocent baby is going to grow and get older.

As your baby grows and starts walking and talking, he’s bound to get into everything. Not to mention, he will start hitting, biting, and pinching. Those are bad habits you shouldn’t overlook. When is a good time to start disciplining and which behavior do you react?

You’re In For It When Baby Starts to Crawl

According to Parents.com, when babies start to crawl (usually around eight months), it’s time to not only baby-proof your home, but also set some limits. Children this young have no idea of the dangers they can get themselves into, and they need their parents for guidance.

When your baby is about to do something he shouldn’t, make sure to say “no.” Don’t scream, but do say it in a firm voice. Because your baby is still young, he doesn’t understand what that word means yet so in addition to saying no, pick him up and put him in a different spot. Eventually, he will learn that when you say no, he should stop.

Tantrums: Oh Boy!

While you may have been on your toes with your 8-month-old, just wait and see what’s in store for your 12- to 24-month-old. According to Jane Anderson, MD at Contemporary Pediatrics, she tells parents at each 12-month visit that the terrible twos are going to begin. Sometimes parents don’t really comprehend because they assume “terrible twos” means their child needs to be two first.

Tantrums are far from fun. Nobody enjoys dealing with a full blown-out tantrum, but children need boundaries. When toddlers know there are rules in place, it not only limits the child’s behavior but they feel safer.

Lawrence Kohlberg’s laws of moral development recommend teaching children the difference between right and wrong behavior between the ages of one and three years old.

One suggested way is, for example, if your child is biting – say firmly, “no biting” – and then turn away from the child for a few seconds, so they know they don’t get attention for that behavior.

This is just one point-of-view on when to discipline baby. Some parents believe it’s best to start sooner than one year old.

Approaching The Two-Year-Old Mark

Between 24 and 36 months, your child will likely be off to preschool or having play dates, which is a prime time for your child to develop socialization skills; however, it’s also a time you may notice a change in behavior when it comes to sharing and needing attention.

The great thing about this age is that when you say something like, “We don’t take things from other kids” your child will understand.

Susan G. O’Leary, PhD, professor of psychology at The State University of New York at Stony Brook, conducted a study and revealed that the best way to discipline preschool-aged children is to be straightforward and short.

Avoid saying something like, “You can’t do that right now, but if you’re good for me at the store you can later.” Simply say, “You can’t do that right now.” Simple and short is proven to be more effective (plus you don’t want your child to grow up thinking if they are good, they are privileged to get something out of it.)

The Controversy Over Time-Outs

When children get a bit older, and they are ready for time-outs as a discipline is where some parents agree to disagree. Children between 24 months and 36 months are ready for time-outs.

When the child misbehaves, you can have him sit for every year of his age, for example, if he is three years old, he would sit for three minutes. Some parents think this discipline approach works great and sets some much-needed boundaries.

Others feel that time-outs are ineffective. For example, Linda Hatfield, an instructor at Parenting From The Heart in Southern California, suggests that time-outs and other punishments aren’t just useless, but they are “damaging” to children.

She claims that the majority of children aren’t misbehaving and that they “behave.” What she is trying to say is that children don’t do bad things on purpose, they are still learning. She claims that children are either tired, hungry, or overstimulated, causing their behavioral issues. Hatfield argues, “All behavior is communication.”

Controversy is going to surround each time of parenting style and discipline approach. Each person has what works for their family. If you feel that your child will benefit from a time-out, follow the guidelines on when to start doing so (around 24-36 months).

No matter what the topic is, there’s going to be some sort of disagreement. Do what works best for you, show your kids you love them, and your child can have the opportunity to thrive.

Heather Burdo

Heather is a freelance writer from New York. She has a passion for health and parenting. Heather has written for the Gluten-Free Living magazine, Mom.me, Project Eve Moms, and others.

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