Punishment: Babies Don’t Understand. Do They?

Johnny broke your eyeglasses, got fingerprints all over your TV and bit the dog’s ear. Johnny’s 1 and he’s going to be trouble when he’s older. You want to yell, scream, put him over your knee, but you’ve always heard that baby’s don’t understand punishment. It won’t do any good to punish Johnny at his age. It will only make him scared to explore his world and that could slow down his learning process and babies’ brains do 85% of their growing by age 3. I could ruin Johnny’s whole life before he can even tell me he’s hungry!

Slow down Skippy. Take a few breaths and count to 10. Your parents didn’t have the internet with 1000’s of professional child development worker’s and their studies at their fingerprints but you lived. Maybe you even became a functional member of society? But how did that happen? I’m sure you got yelled at when you were still toting you’re bathroom on your ass. They might have even *DUN DUN DUN* swatted your butt.

I know. I know. I’ve got to watch that kind of language. Even talking about spanking a child these days seems like a hell worthy trespass. Here’s the deal though: your kid needs to learn boundaries. But how do you do that without them ending up in an alley with a needle in their arm?

Whip them? Not at a year old, that’s crazy. Yell? Maybe, but once, not out of anger and not for punishment. Time out? With limitations, sure. Take away their toys? Under the right circumstances it could work. We’re going to focus on that first year here so let’s walk this through a little at a time.

0-3 Months

I remember those months. They’re fuzzy but I remember. There were a lot of sleepless nights and hours holding the baby until I thought my arms would fall off. My entire life pretty much stopped for this period of time while my wife and I helped welcome our baby into the world and show him his surroundings.

There’s a term that was batted around some at our house and the cause of quite a bit of debate among family and friends. “Spoiling”. How much would be too much and can you even spoil a baby at that age. The truth is nothing is too much and not really.

A baby can’t really be held too much because they’re used to being held 24 hours a day in their mother’s womb.  Their needs are pretty basic at this point. Feed them, change them, hold them, wash them, put them to sleep. They will cry when they are hungry or wet. They will reach out and pull on your glasses, pull on the strings of your jacket. They will pull on your beard and ears. This is all natural they’re just exploring what little of their environment they have access too. Look at it like bonding time. They’re exploring your face and its going to be one of the most important faces they’ll have in their lives for a long time.

If it hurts gently move their hand away from what they’re grabbing. If its dangerous take it away and speak soothingly while you do it. At this stage yelling is only going to scare them and the only thing they are going to understand if you spank them is that it hurts. Seriously if they get into anything they’re not supposed to at this point in their lives, being basically immobile, its your fault.

Spend these first three months coddling them, loving them, holding them, and basically enjoying spending time with them. Because from here it’s basically downhill with the whole punishment vs. reward thing.

3-6 Months

Okay your child knows he’s not in the womb anymore. There is a whole wide world out there! He’s seen it over the top of his playpen! Now you can begin to set some boundaries for the child. Since most people(especially the sane ones) can’t and won’t baby proof their entire house you have to start showing them there are things they can and cannot play with and explore.

“Then break out the belt! Time to set this whipper-snapper straight!” No. No. No. We’re still in a stage where loud noises make babies panic and even a swat on the leg just registers pain. The baby doesn’t make the association between the act that they were doing and what caused you to hit them. They just know that the person who has been holding them and cooing to them is suddenly very mean.

Exercise patience and restraint when dealing with punishment. The only time you need to raise your voice here is when they are about to get hurt and you’re not right next to them. And then only to get their attention on you. So that you can calmly, but firmly tell them “no”. Your face and tone are your best weapons here. Learn how to pull a straight face. Any time the child is acting up put on that face and with a calm, but direct and commanding tone tell them “no”.

If you are holding them and they decide your shoulder looks like a good chew toy tell them to stop and set them down. Over time they will make the connection that if they want to be held they won’t bite. You might even bring them a teething ring when you pick them back up so they know what they should be using. If they think your wife’s snow globe is a ball and start rolling it tell them no and take it away. Give them a ball instead.

READ  A Map and a Compass - punishment for a 6-10 year old

At this point its important to not let the word “no” become the start to a game. If you tell the child no and they giggle and try again, pull your straight face out. Do not laugh. Set them down. It’s okay for them to even get somewhat upset by this. Wait about a minute, maybe a little less and then you can pick them up again and sooth them.

Its important to let them know that you’re still there to comfort them, but not when they do certain things. It lets you set soft boundaries without complete upheaval of the coddling, caring parent they’ve come to know.

7-12 Months

Your baby is on the move. They are crawling all over the place, by the end walking, maybe even climbing on furniture. You can’t leave the room for a second! The kid won’t stop playing around the TV, it’s going to fall on him. He’s tried 3 times to stick his fingers in electric outlets. No matter what type of punishment you use he just WILL NOT listen!

That’s okay. Over the last 3 months you’ve set the tone for these 6. You can now talk to the child about why they should not be doing certain things. I don’t mean sit them down and have a heart to heart with them, but if they’re about to dump a TV on their head you can say something. Approach the situation gently as they’re still jumpy critters at this stage and say something to the effect of “No, baby, that will fall on you and hurt you. Let’s play with(insert child’s favorite toy here) instead.”

Again no whipping yet, they won’t understand this as a form of punishment for a while. Quit being so trigger happy. You should have started baby proofing your house some at this point too. I invested in a TV wall mount, for example, during this stage. And gates. Gate off any areas you don’t want your baby to go.

At this stage it’s also important that you DO leave the room. You’ve let your baby fuss for up to a minute several times over the last 3 months – they can handle being alone for a minute now. Don’t give them a steak knife and tell them to fend for themselves while you get in a round of golf. But you can go grab a snack or do something in the next room. If they start to cry announce that you are still there and you’ll be right back. It will let them know that they have not been abandoned while helping them past any separation anxiety they might have.

The first year

The first year is great. First year discipline and punishment is somewhat challenging. As I’ve said you need a lot of patience. Once you get the hang of it, though, it becomes the building block for what you’ll need to get through years 1-4. It will also be a building block for what your child can expect from you for discipline.

They will know two things by the end of year one. When you say no you mean it and if you yell they need to stop what they’re doing or they will get hurt. Too many parents start yelling and screaming at kids around the time the doctor smacks them on the ass as general punishment. And it makes kids do what they do best: ignore them. This can become a danger to them if you yell when they’re doing something they should not be, but won’t get hurt. Such as playing with the satellite remote. They may order a pay per view, but it won’t kill them.

Since they learn to ignore parents who yell every time they do anything they learn to ignore them no matter what they’re doing. So if the child runs into the road and the parent yells their experiences are going to tell them that they will get in trouble not hurt. Whereas if a parent only yells when danger is involved and the child runs toward the road they may stop when they hear that scream from their mother.

Remember every child is different and first year discipline is no different. If your child reacts better to one thing than the other, go with it. Experiment! Just stay within a few simple guidelines: be fair, do not act out of anger(it’s better to take a breather and come back), don’t yell except in case of emergency, and don’t hit the child. You’ll find what works best for you and our little one.

Read Part 1 – An Introduction to Discipline
Read Part 3 – Spar The Rod, Spoil The Child?

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Posted in How do you discipline your children?.