When does discipline start?

Kate and I have taken Ruby out to restaurants since she was a week or two old, and she’s generally been pretty happy just to hang out in her sling and watch the forks go by.  But this isn’t really true any more — if we have wanted to take her to a restaurant lately, we’ve had to be very aware of the timing and get her when she’s asleep, or at the very least happy.  If not, we’ll have a rushed, anxious meal.  In fact, we’ll probably have a rushed, anxious meal anyway.

Ruby and I had lunch with my buddy Chong a few days ago.  She was getting towards the end of her awake cycle and so started to get crabby, occasionally letting out yelps of discontent.  Chong and I passed her back and forth so that we could take turns eating our turkey sandwiches.  At one point while Chong was holding her, she let out a yelp.  And he chastised her!  He said, in a firm (and loud, but Chong doesn’t do quiet) voice: “Ruby, no!  That’s enough!”

That hurt.  It’s hard to say what bothered me about it — did I want to protect her?  Was it knowing the futility of the reprimand?  Whatever it was, it made me sad.  I don’t think Chong did anything wrong — he’s used to being firm with puppies and nephews, and truth be told, he probably did the right thing. 

It’s probably time to start setting some boundaries.

This will be a gradual transition, I expect, but it’s still a major one.  Until now we’ve been floating along with Ruby, getting to know her, and responding to her every need.  But soon, I think, we’ll need to start teaching her about the needs of the people around her.  Kate and I will have to shoulder the sad burden of denying our child something she wants.  In addition to being Ruby’s primary caregivers, we’ll also be the primary withholders.  The former will vastly outweigh the latter, of course, but even those rare denials are going to hurt every time.

How do you teach consequences, empathy, or a sense of the future to a four-month-old?  She’s still trying to figure out how to get her entire fist into her mouth.  It’s probably too early to try these things.  So I ask my readers with parenting experience: when did you start setting boundaries, and what were they?  Honestly, I can’t even picture how that would work.

But one day… “It’s for her own good.”  Repeat ad nauseum.

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2 Responses to “When does discipline start?”

  1. Nicole Says:

    Oh honey,

    I can see your pain, but it’s not about denying anything, think of it as teaching. It’s not a NO! That’s enough!” You say to her starting now in a nice calm soothing tone as you would expect your wife to explain something to you: respectfully, “Ruby, honey, we’re having lunch and you’ll get to lay down in 10 minutes. Please be patient” It’s amazing what children understand. They soak up everything, and even if they can’t talk, as you know they can communicate very effectively. So talk to them like they understand now because one day, sooner than you think, she’ll get it all. Also it’s the tone of what you’re saying that communicates to her- she may have let out a yelp, but your tone acknowledges that she’s trying to communicate. It’s sooooo important to talk talk talk to them, especially when you are frustrated with behaviour etc, because talking calms you down, and allows you to explain to them what’s going on instead of you impulsively reacting to the situation ie- chong.

    so the moral of the story- to elicite good behaviour in children at an early age, talk to them through the bad behaviour with respect, empower your child now.
    Also explain to her consequences and follow through with them. Children love structure. She’s a little young for this, it’s more when she’s pushing a year that you’ll start to say things like- please stop touching the vcr. And if you do get upset, which is normal, explain it to her: “Daddy is really upset with the behaviour. Daddy loves you but the behaviour makes me upset and angry. Please do not put your fingers in the vcr it’s dangerous..” It’s soooo important to put the I love you in there, so she knows she’s not a bad girl, but the behaviour is bad. It’s all about disciplining in the positive realm.

    Does that help?
    We can talk over the phone about this more if you want- soooo wish I could be there to see how she’s doing. Hopefully very soon. Tell her Auntie Ni loves and misses her. A nice little whisper in her ear before bedtime tomorrow- please and thank you!


  2. michael Says:

    Wow…awesome comment Nicole. I started up this comment before I realised you’d already said much more articulately what I had intended.

    The only useful thing I can add is the following…
    There are lots of good sources of information on the web. Check out the following.


    good luck, blog what you learn…it will help us all

    michael (father of a 2.5 yr old and soon a new infant)

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