At What Age Do You Start to Discipline Your Baby?

Discipline is a touchy subject among parents, as there is no right or wrong way and everyone has different opinions. However, one thing is clear -- consistency is key. Establishing set boundaries, routines and rules for your child will work, regardless of your methods. Working to establish a positive and respectful relationship with your child can start when he is a baby. A baby cannot distinguish between right and wrong and also cannot begin to change behavior. It is your job to keep him safe and secure, but you can begin implementing methods and techniques to build upon.


The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that the word discipline "comes from the root word disciplinare -- to teach or instruct," and as such, "as infants become more mobile and initiate more contact with the environment, parents must impose limitations and structure to create safe spaces for them to explore and play." When your baby begins to crawl and move around, it may be an appropriate time to start discipline 356. Once she becomes mobile, there is an abundance of new obstacles and items to get into, and it is important that boundaries are established. As Dr. George Comerci, an Arizona pediatrician and former president of the AAP, explains, “Discipline is not intended to be punitive." Discipline is about teaching guidance and setting boundaries in a safe environment 6. You can start by teaching her right from wrong and using redirection to discontinue the undesired behavior. If your baby bites you, change your tone to reflect that you are firm and serious. Say "Ana, biting hurts Mommy. We don't bite people." Then perhaps redirect her to a teething ring. When you see your little one doing something potentially dangerous, such as eating a DVD or book off the shelf, redirection is best. Pick up your baby, and say in the same firm and serious tone, "DVDs are not for eating -- let's play with your blocks." Babies have short attention spans, and they can quickly move on to doing something new.

Explain, Repeat

Young babies do not have the ability to remember rules or inhibit self-control, but if you keep repeating the important things like, “No!" and “Hot!” they will eventually stick. While you may be tempted to just use a recording of your most frequented phrases, one day it will click. Your little one will soon be able to recall your words and tone and apply it to his actions. Remember that using a firm tone is important, but also to be respectful and kind. You want your child to feel loved and guided. Find ways to avoid saying "no," saving it for dangerous situations. Instead, use redirection and model by example. Instead of “Don’t pull Romeo’s tail!” say, "Pet Romeo soft and gentle, like this. He loves it when you pet near his ears!"

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a valuable tool when it comes to disciplining your baby. Acknowledging behaviors you do want to see will build up your child's confidence. The AAP recommends recognizing the behavior as often and quickly as possible. Positive rewards such as words of praise, eye contact and being affectionate work best at a young age, and as your baby grows you can implement things like a point system, material rewards and ac­tivities.

Precautions and Tips

For a baby, you must provide a safe environment. Ensure that all areas are baby proof and not full of hazards for her to get into. There is a fine line between being too strict and too easygoing, but you will find your balance with practice as you and your baby grow together. Take your baby's personality into account; some babies may need a gentler approach than others. Shaming, criticizing and using physical discipline are never appropriate choices. It can damage developing self-confidence, scare your baby and even lead to injury. The AAP does not recommend spanking or other forms of physical discipline, as its research has found that children who were spanked were more likely to have issues as adults such as:

  • depression
  • anger
  • alcohol abuse
  • domestic abuse
  • other types of violence or criminal activity