Can You Discipline A Baby?

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Now that my baby is on the go, she’s touching and getting into things she shouldn’t. Sometimes what she’s doing is not safe and sometimes I just don’t want her to touch it. But I don’t want to turn into one of those parents who says, “No!” all the time. Can you really discipline a baby?

I typically begin my positive discipline workshops by likening discipline to swaddling. A swaddle allows us to control some of the stimuli that impact an infant like temperature and reflexes. Positive discipline, rather than being punitive, creates external boundaries that help a young child stay safe and learn what is okay and not okay.

For babies, self-regulation is difficult, as is understanding that some decisions are good choices and some “not so good.” The goal is that with time and practice, as they get older, they can begin to develop and use these skills on their own.

Here are 5 ways you can use positive discipline with babies:

1. Use the Environment

“If I can reach it, I’m gonna touch it!” Babies are sensory learners, so it makes sense that if they can reach something they are going to want to touch it, taste it, etc. When I say use the environment, I mean set up the environment to help your child (and yourself) be successful. Put the items you don’t want your baby to touch out of her reach. In fact, putting them out of her sight line is even better. If she can’t reach it or see it, she probably won’t want it. One less occasion for turning into the “No Monster.”

2. Positive Alternatives/Redirection/Diversion and Distraction

A baby who throws toys can be given a big bucket to put them in. One who tries to shake a piece of furniture may be given a maraca or rain stick. By giving your baby a positive alternative, you are teaching her how she can play safely.

Redirection works in a similar way. The baby who is eating a crayon can be taught by using hand over hand and a clever song to show her that crayons go on the paper.

Diversion and Distraction work when you need to simply move baby on to something else.  Change the tone of your voice to one of excitement and wonder, as you show your baby a material in another area of the room. This will engage her in an alternative that may be safer and more constructive.

3. Tone

As baby’s understanding of language develops, the tone of your voice is even more important than the immediate words you are using, particularly in situations where safety is concerned. Using the same “mother-ese” that you do when playing, or using one of the strategies in #2, will not stop your baby from doing something unsafe. That doesn’t mean you have to yell, but if baby repeatedly does something unsafe, change the tone and cadence of your voice to quickly grab his attention.

4. Saying No

Sometimes saying “no” is the right response. Certainly, it’s best to use it in rotation with the other strategies here, but sometimes a quick, firm “no” will give the clearest message and elicit the response you are looking for.

5. Positive Reinforcement and Valuing Cooperation

As important as the limit-setting strategies above, are letting your baby know that you value cooperation and praising her when she is doing something positive. The baby who puts her cheerios into a “no-thank-you” bowl, rather than throwing it on the floor, might receive a cheer with clapping hands. An adult can verbalize what she’s done and thank her for being helpful. A baby who pets the dog gently might hear the grown up in the room approvingly narrate that she “used gentle hands.” No matter a person’s age, acknowledging success feels good and makes you want to repeat that behavior. Give it a try!

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Dana Rosenbloom has a master’s degree in Infant and Parent Development and Early Intervention and has been working with children and families for over 10 years. Dana’s Kids offers home, school and web-based services in the areas of parent education, play and behavior therapy, special education services, parent workshops and support groups, and professional development. To learn more about Dana and Dana’s Kids, and to subscribe for her FREE newsletter, please visit  You can also follow Dana on Facebook: and Twitter: Danaskids

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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