Dear Father Hood: at what age should you start disciplining your child?
Things. Just. Got. Interesting. I say this for two reasons. First, because everything I write about disciplining your child can and will be held against me by a smorgasbord of angry parents. And second, because I am beginning to ask this question on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong. My son is a great and extremely considerate kid, with a lovely and gentle personality. But while he is a gem, he is most certainly is not a saint. Unless, of course, saints do all of the following on a daily basis.
- Drive their toy car into their father’s head
- Hurl everything they can pick up over the back of the sofa (then moan relentlessly about the fact they can’t get to said object because they’re down the back of the sofa)
- Attempt to pull their parents’ ears off
- Shake the tall lamp in the corner like it’s a maraca
- Pretend to be sick to get out of their high chair
- Hang off the oven door like a gym monkey preparing for a pull-up session
I am pretty sure that they don’t, so have decided to try disciplining my 15-month-old tyke on the basis that if he can point at his nose and appreciate that cows go “moo”, then he should be able to comprehend that “no” means “don’t do it” and “naughty” means “bad”. And let me tell you something. It’s a barrel of laughs. No, seriously, it is. I give him the silent treatment and he runs over and starts pulling my leg or poking me in the eye, while giggling. I put him on the naughty step and he scrambles up the stairs while guffawing uproariously. I dish out a stern lecture, with accompanied finger wagging, and he chortles in my face. I issue time outs in his cot or high chair and he spends the ten seconds chuckling.
So what does all this mean? As you’d expect, the internet is packed to the brim with opinions, most of which come to the same conclusion as my wife. Which is… our child is clearly the spawn of the devil. Not really. It’s that you can start disciplining your child any time you want, but realistically 15 months may be too early to expect your child to understand why you’re acting like a suburban Judge Dredd. “He can’t work out that running into walls hurts his head, so there’s no chance of him working out that you’ve put him in the high chair to punish him for dropping the remote control in the dishwasher,” argues my wife.
My wife’s plan
So what’s her solution? Simple. She allows the house to descend into complete and utter chaos. Again, not really. She uses the ‘explain what our son has done wrong and why he is being punished in as simple terms as possible’ approach. It’s a method that’s approved by experts in the field of child behaviour and one that requires a lot of patience and repetition (and, in my wife’s case, loads of exaggerated mimes and hand waving). But does it work?
The answer is… drum roll, please… sometimes. Ugh. How disappointing. Not really. When your options are being slapped in the face 15 times or being slapped in the face 10 times, the latter number of blows is actually a bit of a result. Plus, I have it on good authority that this methodology will provide a good foundation for when he actually begins to understand what we’re saying. The bad news is this usually happens sometime between the age of two-and-a-half and three. The good news is we’re over halfway.