Since I focus a lot on child training and the understanding that the sooner you begin intentionally raising good kids the better, many readers ask, “When should I begin disciplining, correcting, and training my baby?” Knowing when to start disciplining a baby and how to make child training effective in the early years is one of the most powerful keys to raising a well-behaved, really great child!
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The common misconception or misunderstanding parents have is that they have to wait until a child CAN understand before beginning training. When the truth is that training is meant to be done SO a child understands, not because he already does.
From the moment a baby is born she is being trained. When she cries and you pick her up, you’re training her that you are the provider of comfort. When you put her to your breast or give a bottle of nutrition via formula, you are training her that your voice, smell, and touch accompanies the relief of hunger pangs.
What Does It Mean to Discipline a Baby?
It’s important as we begin talking about when to start disciplining a baby that you have an accurate understanding of the word discipline.
Most of what comes to mind when we hear the word discipline spoken, involve visions of heavy-handedness, spanking, finger-pointing, and such.
The Latin origin of the word discipline comes from the word disciplina, which means instruction or knowledge. Which is also rooted very close to the word disciple!
That’s what we’re doing here… we are discipling our little ones in instruction and knowledge!
With that understanding, let’s talk about when to start disciplining a baby.
When to Start Disciplining a Baby
The newborn phase is gone in a flash! When I was in that stage with each of my children, I remember trying so conscientiously to memorize they way their hand felt on my skin, the way they smelled, the way their coos sounded, and all the other priceless bits of babyhood.
However, now that those days are behind me, I have to make an effort to draw those things out of my memory.
First and foremost I want you to stop and smell the roses. Better yet and what I really mean to say is stop and smell your baby!
Memorize her face and the wonderful things about her. She will change so fast and through each season of motherhood holds its own unique blessings, the time spent with a new baby is especially special.
Sometimes, though, babyhood is tough on a momma. Between nursing, feeding schedules, sleeping troubles, crying, and a whole lotta brain development, life can get a little exhausting.
That’s honestly why we are talking about this today. Training desirable behaviors as early as possible with your baby makes everything easier and more peaceful.
Sleep Training Discipline
I wrote here about numerous reasons that sleep is vitally important (for everyone – not just baby.) The bottom line is the importance of sleep can not be overstated!
Sleep training can be started as soon as a few weeks old. Many mothers have been able to train their babies to sleep routinely and scheduled by the age of 6 weeks. Depending on your baby’s temperament, this may be more or less difficult.
Since this can vary, as a general rule, 4 months of age is old enough for all temperaments to begin sleep training.
Sleep training is not about sleep alone. Since we’re talking about when to start disciplining a baby, I want you to understand how sleep training is relevant.
Once you’ve successfully sleep trained your baby, you’ll have the ability to revisit sleep training each time your child regresses due to sickness, teething, etc. Therefore, a baby who sleeps well turns into a toddler who sleeps well, then a preschooler, and indeed good sleep habits can be carried into your baby’s adult life!
Sleep train your baby for easier parenting later!
Food Training Discipline
How is it that any child survived in the 18th century before chicken nuggets were created? With “picky eaters” everywhere, I’m often left to wonder how it is that the unhealthy foods stocking the grocery store shelves these days are the ones that children come to love?
Because that is what they are given.
Those foods are loaded with processing agents, chemical preservatives, and harmful ingredients. Now I am no nutrition fanatic. I am only moderate to severely crunchy. (OK, maybe I’m more of a fanatic than I admit) However, I know that I have enormous control over my child’s nutrition intake.
Food training is disciplining your baby by giving her only the foods you want her to have. Resulting in a “big kid” who also eats what you put in front of her without complaint.
Take the time to train your baby to eat nutritious foods, focusing on healthy fats (which rice cereal is not) and vegetables. Spend as much time as you need to, introducing one food at a time and repeating it until she comes to talk it well.
Attitude Training Discipline
Earlier I mentioned how your baby is trained to cry when she needs you because when she cries you pick her up. Since she likes being picked up, she does it again and again to obtain the same reward.
This is so important when your baby is a newborn. As she ages though, it’s equally important that you gradually begin teaching her – her place in the family. That place is as an equal team member.
For instance, when you are washing dishes and your baby decides she wants to be held. It’s good discipline training to make her wait for you to be available. After all, no one can eat if the dishes aren’t clean.
Likewise, it is acceptable and good to require her to wait when you are using the bathroom, speaking to another adult or child, in the midst of a task, etc.
Another good example of this type of discipline training for a baby is teaching her how to wake up happy.
The Baby Discipline of Waking Happy
Of my 4 children, 3 of them were naturally cheerful in the morning and one was not. This sweet-pea of mine would always wake up crying no matter how well-rested she was.
To correct this, I would wait outside her room, and not enter until I heard a lull in her crying. Once she was quiet in between cries (even if only for a few seconds) I’d enter in with a smile and cheerful greeting.
If she began to smile, I’d pick her up. If she continued to cry, I’d acquire a smile from her before touching her of getting her out of the crib. After only a week or so, she stopped waking up grumpy and hasn’t since.
Consider other areas that you can see this type of baby discipline training being applicable.
Throwing food? Mealtime is over.
Using grunts and whining to get picked up? Teach her a sign and require her to use it to be picked up.
Fussing, screaming, or crying when she doesn’t get her way? Walk away and don’t engage.
This type of training can be started between 4-6 months and continues, develops and expands over time.
Potty Training Discipline
Through differing personalities, 2 boys, 2 girls, auditory and sensory processing challenges, and various schedules, all 4 of my children were potty trained before their second birthdays.
A big part of my success with potty training was due to beginning early training long before they were “ready.”
I read books to them while sitting on the potty, showed them how the toilet worked, talked to them extensively about the purpose of a toilet, how the body works, and a lot more in preparation for toilet training later on.
I’m a firm believer that as much as a child can do, he should do. I’ve read countless research about the level of confidence and self-esteem that is obtained through self-sufficiency. When a child is confident of his abilities, he is confident, period.
Potty training is a great opportunity to practice this. You can begin teaching your baby about the toilet as soon as he can sit up well or about 6-12 months.
Be conscientious every day that your goal as a parent is to raise exceptional adults. Filter all of your parenting through the lens of that goal and your likelihood of success sky-rockets!
Read my complete potty-training guide here to be ready when the time comes!
Age Breakdown for When to Start Discipling a Baby
It’s all about the bonding! You want every interaction you have with your baby during this time to be soft and gentle. From the way you speak around her, to the words you say, to the way you touch.
Focus on training your baby to understand that she is a priceless addition to this world and that God has an amazing plan for her life.
It’s time to get serious about sleep and food! Understand that this doesn’t mean that the bonding is over! The opposite is true. The better rested, nourished, and healthy your baby is, the more high-quality your bonding time together will be.
Moms can often mistakenly believe that training and discipline are all for the sake of severity and control. The complete opposite is true. The more training and discipline that goes in, the more focus that can be spent on nurturing the relationship!
Is that a little attitude I see?
Your baby is beginning to understand that she has some control over things. For instance, she has learned that if she’s just plumb bored, she can cry and you’ll stop whatever you’re doing and come to carry her around.
She’s also learning that some things please her more than others, and she wants all the things that please her, all the time. So she demands them.
Now’s the time to start shaping that will of hers. Whether or not she grows to be a well-behaved child who regularly displays good behavior will largely depend on the trajectory of your parenting and training over the next six years.
It’s all about getting off on the right foot! Train and correct bad attitudes, demands, whining and grunts as you go along and from the very beginning in order to be and stay ahead of the game!
At this age, your baby is bordering on toddlerhood and leaving infancy. In fact, she may already be waving goodbye at baby-ness and running full force into her next stage of life!
With this transition, comes abundant training and discipline opportunities! By now your baby should be sleeping well, eating well, and beginning to understand that she’s part of a bigger picture.
With the introduction of crawling, walking, and increased fine and gross motor skill, comes the need to shift your training mindset. Your little one now has the ability to get into pretty much everything.
Instead of trying to cover every possible example of how and when to start disciplining a baby this age, I’m going to give you one great example and instruct you to apply the thought process to all training for this age.
Baby Training Discipline Example
Give your child plenty of opportunities to climb stairs and maneuver obstacles as much as possible! Doing so creates new neural pathways and increased intelligence.
When you are not available to help him practice these skills, you must be able to say, “Do not go near the stairs” and observe obedience.
To train this: As Joe is toddling about and begins to head to the stairs, step in front of him, and say, “You may not climb the stairs now, Mommy is not available to help you!”
When he tries to walk around you, repeat the action. Block his way and say the exact same words. “You may not climb the stairs now, Mommy is not available to help you!”
Repeat the process until Joe gets frustrated and crawls/walks away, or cries. Resist the urge to redirect his attention elsewhere. You are not training him to find something else to do, you are training him to obey you. Both are necessary, but only one should be done at a time.
Repeat this entire process as much and as often as necessary. The training is using your time, so technically you could be available to help him climb the stairs, however if you do so each and every time he heads to the stairs, you will NEVER be able to watch him obediently walk away from the stairs as you say, “You may not climb the stairs now, Mommy is not available to help you!”
You block his path to those stairs for 20-30 minutes a few times, so that from then on, you can sit and chat with a friend during a playdate while your child plays nicely and obeys your instructions.
Final Thoughts on When You Should Start Training Your Baby With Discipline
Good parenting is cumulative. How well your child obeys, behaves, and attaches to the family will be the result of the good parenting you put in from the earliest days.
Raising a baby who becomes a great kid requires equal parts training, discipline, relationship, and maintenance. The first step is almost always training. When that step has been well established from the get-go, all the other steps become more effective!
From birth through one-year, your baby is a developing with a world of possibilities available to her. Sleep, food, and attitude are foundational and only scratch the surface of what she’s capable of. Intentionally train and discipline her to become the person she was created to be!