How Do I Discipline My Six-month-old?

QUESTION

Dear Mr. Dad,
My 6-month-old is getting into everything. I keep saying "No!" but he won't listen. What's the best way to discipline him?

ANSWER

Before we go any further, let's clarify one thing: Discipline does not mean "punishment;" it means "teaching" and "setting limits." And the goal is to help your child develop impulse control. At six months, though, that's pretty much impossible, for several reasons.

First, your baby can't make a distinction between a want and a need -- they're exactly the same to him. Second, he's simply not capable of understanding that he's doing something wrong (or even what "right" and "wrong" mean). If he pokes you in the eye, head butts you when you're leaning in to give him a kiss, or knocks over the fish bowl, he's not doing it to cause trouble. Finally, babies this age have very short memories. So by the time you've disciplined him, he's already forgotten what he did to get you so upset.

But now that your baby is getting more mobile, there's an increased chance that his misbehavior could become dangerous. So it's time to start setting some limits. Nothing rigid -- just some basic guidelines to get your baby used to the idea.

At this point, you have only two serious discipline and limit-setting options: minimize danger by baby proofing the house, and distract him; take advantage of his short memory while you still can. So if he's gotten hold of that priceless Van Gogh you accidentally left on the floor, give him a teddy bear; and if he's making a break for the nearest busy street, pick him up and turn him around the other way. Chances are, he won't even notice. And even if he does, he'll be disappointed for only a few seconds.
-- "Mr. Dad"

Armin Brott

A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the bestselling author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-To-Be, The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, Fathering Your Toddler, The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads, and four other books on fatherhood. He has written on parenting, fatherhood, and health for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts "Positive Parenting," which airs on a dozen stations in the US and worldwide on the American Forces Network. Armin lives with his family in Oakland, California. You may visit his website at mrdad.com to learn more.