Parenting: Discipline and Limit Setting

Newborn to 2 Years Old: What Works

  • Minimize danger and conflicts by manipulating the environment.
  • Install safety gates, light socket guards and window locks.
  • Lift electronic equipment and books high off the floor, and remove delicate plants and objects. Anything that is too appealing to a crawling infant will constantly be a bone of contention.
  • Say "no" in a strong voice if your child is moving toward a lamp cord, but don't yell. Yelling scares children and causes them to feel mistrustful of their parents' affection. The change in your voice can stop her in her tracks. If you are consistent, she will learn to avoid this behavior.
  • Use distraction. If a child is throwing his toy cars around, take out his building blocks and engage him in this new activity.
  • Remove your child from problematic situations. For instance, if your 11-month-old keeps crawling toward the stove, pick her up and take her into another room. If she is hitting you when she is in your arms, put her down on the floor and give her something to do.
  • Give your child explanations for your limits. If your child reaches for your coffee cup tell him, "You mustn't touch. The coffee is hot." Children cooperate more readily if you give them reasons.
  • Minimize the use of sentences that begin with "Don't" or "Stop." These words often act as a green light for children to fight you. They need to assert their independence. Find other phrases to use instead. Rather than saying, "Don't throw those books," tell your 2 1/2-year-old, "The books need to stay on the shelf."
  • Avoid saying "no" immediately. This word frequently triggers tantrums. If your youngster asks for a cookie, instead of saying, "no," you can tell her, "You can have a cookie after dinner."
  • Channel your child's negative behavior to positive actions. "The walls are not for drawing on. You need to draw on paper."
  • Plan ahead. Bring along toys or healthy snacks for long car trips or a visit to the doctor to keep your kids busy.
  • Be patient. It takes children a long time to learn the rules. You will have to repeat them over and over again. And remember, sometimes kids can say the rules long before they can actually follow them.
  • Timeouts work for some children, but not all. Have your child sit in a quiet place, such as a chair, the couch or a park bench. The rule of thumb is one minute per year of age. At home you can use a kitchen timer. If your child gets up, walk him back saying, "The timer didn't ring yet" (You may have to do this several times.). Many children resent timeouts because they dislike sitting still and when separated from the group they feel abandoned. If your child does not respond well to timeouts, and this approach creates more battles, find other ways to work with your child.