When Should You Start Disciplining Your Children?

Originally published on Yahoo! Shine on October 25th, 2010.

My daughter has one of those sweet, innocent smiles that can fool anyone. As we stroll through the park she waves a friendly nod to every person who gives her the time of the day, and as I put her down on the playground she excitedly runs toward the other children (particularly those older than her) and invites them to play. The other parents approach us with a friendly smile and begin to explain to their kids how fragile and young my daughter is and how they should be careful when playing with her as she is still a baby (11 months old). But, before they can finish their sentences, my daughter has begun some of her usual mischief, which includes pulling the hair of the older baby, exploring their face, trying to touch their toy, or helping herself to whatever snack they are eating.

You can imagine my embarrassment as I pull her hand down, apologize to the older baby and her/his parent, and in a calm voice try to explain to my daughter that this behavior is not acceptable, while she cries with rage and points at the other child and her toy/snack.

Luckily, so far the other parents and children have treated us graciously and have forgiven my daughter’s tantrums, probably because they have dealt with it themselves when their children were that age. According to many experts, children under the age of 3 are too young to undergo formal discipline measures such as time-outs. However, an incident in the library the other day made me think again about the importance of good parenting and providing discipline both to your child and ourselves!

During a Mommy and Me story time at our local library, I noticed a cute little 9-month-old baby girl who liked to offer her hand to everyone for kissing-a real princess. She made the rounds in our circle to a little 3-year-old boy, nicely dressed, charming and adorable. Then, the boy bit the hand of the 9-month-old instead of kissing it. The girl started to cry and the boy’s mother was silent and offered no apology, though she did look genuinely concerned about both kids. The girl’s mother started to yell at the boy’s mom in front of everyone, telling her she should not be taking her uncivilized boy out in public and the other woman fired back at her while the rest of us sat in silence and shock. I felt bad for both mothers-perhaps a little bit more for the one who got yelled at-but wondered why she wasn’t offering an apology or teaching her son that this biting was not OK? Then on the other hand, the little girl’s mom should have perhaps been more careful about who her daughter is offering her hand to for kisses and watched her a bit more closely.

Judging from several conversations/threads on Yahoo! Answers like this one and this one, I am not the only parent struggling with the question on how and when one should begin to discipline a child.

What do you think? Is there an age that’s appropriate for introducing discipline? What approaches have you found work? What doesn’t work? Join the conversation!

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