I think few would disagree that one of the essentials of baby care comes in the form of love. Apart from the obvious need of sustenance to survive, love comes at the top of a baby’s needs, and that continues right through childhood into the teenage years. Most teenagers would not admit it; most young children struggle to express it; and babies cannot express it. But, children of any age need love.
Something else that is needed throughout a child’s upbringing is discipline; a sensible level of discipline from which the child will benefit throughout their adult lives. The application of discipline can seem to become more difficult as a child gets older, in direct proportion to the child’s ability to express themselves assertively. In reality, though, applying discipline to a baby can be every bit as difficult, because it is a much more subtle and less obvious process.
A teenager ignoring your 10pm curfew is a blatant discipline problem. To some, a one year old baby crying because they are being taken from their toys to have a bath and go to bed, is not even about discipline, and they may not think of it as such. They love the baby, want it to be happy and, despite knowing that the baby should sleep, feel pity and put her back with her toys.
Does a Baby Need Discipline?
Discipline with a child is usually about testing boundaries; the boundaries of what they are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do. If they do not like the answer, they protest and test again; and again. If the boundary they are trying to break gives way easily, it encourages them to go back and do it again.
If the boundary holds firm, with a consistent parent being calmly unbending, then the baby or infant will give up…..eventually. Patience and consistency are vital to the discipline, otherwise the baby will become confused; they will not learn what is acceptable and what is not, if one day you give into their protests, and on another day you do not.
In the example above, the baby has successfully used tears to get their way against the parent’s better judgement. Bath and bed time have been delayed, with a two fold result. Firstly, she will not sleep at the time that is best for her, and she will become crotchety and over tired, and cry even louder with the next attempt to put her to bed. Secondly, her success at preventing the bath will bolster her for next time; she has learnt that yelling will get her own way.
About a decade ago, while I still lived in the UK, there was a study into teenagers, to find out what it was they most needed to make their lives happier and better. More than half said they really wanted more discipline; yes, “wanted”.
Discipline has been allowed to evaporate across some Western societies, with a result that teenagers have felt that there is an absence of necessary discipline in their lives. However, there is no need to allow your baby to become just one more in the statistics of undisciplined children.
Does a baby need discipline? In my opinion, and based on my own experience, the answer is a resounding “yes”.
Can Love and Discipline Mix?
From the perspective of a “second time around” parent, I would say that not only do love and discipline mix, they are mutually essential. Working from home, I have been able to observe our baby daughter for two years. I have also been here all the time to apply “discipline” and to provide heaps of love, affection and cuddles.
I am of the view that love is not only an essential for a happy baby, it also the parents’ most powerful weapon when it comes to discipline. How can that be? By threatening to withdraw your love if the baby is naughty?
No, there is no need to make any threats at all. The baby needs love and they adore their parents. You are, in the main, their life. As they recognize you are not happy when they do something wrong, what will discipline them in the end is their deep desire for you to be happy with them, to praise them, and to show your love for them.
If a baby’s naughtiness threatens their ideal world, by observing the negative effect on you, the baby will learn to steer things back onto a course where you are happy with them, praise them again, and show your love. They will not only say they are sorry, they will mean it, because they truly are. To that extent, discipline becomes self discipline by the baby if there is enough love in the home to make them yearn for that love more than anything else.
I am not saying disciplining any baby is easy, but with sufficient love it can be a relatively smooth process if you see things from the baby’s point of view, and understand that the baby, deep down, wants to please you more than anything else.