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.


  1. Hey man – again thanks for being so honest with your experiences. Discipline is a highly very contentious subject among parents, almost to the point where it sits with religion and politics for ‘don’t talk about it at dinner’ controversy.

    I have to second what your (obviously onto it) wife’s approach. There pretty much isn’t any magical technique punishment or proactive that is going to turn a 15 month old kid into a saint, the focus should really be on interactions that are going to help him learn in the long term.

    But I also have to confess I have gone pretty ballistic particularly with the oven swinging one WHEN THE OVEN IS ON. Brief time-outs are actually effective not actually as a punishment per say, but to quickly move a tyke on when they are doing something like the old ear pull (does he also just outright grab the skin of your chin and neck, that one hurts like heck) the whole time-out for 1 minute per year of age is completely bunk but just a momentary being moved away from Mum, Dad, oven, couch, death-pit does provide a quick response than can help shape behaviour.

    Thanks for the post.

    • No worries. Thanks for the comment and the advice. Completely agree with what you’re saying about shouting occasionally. It’s not meant as a form of discipline per se, it’s just a warning to the kid that they’re about to hurt themselves (potentially badly). Will keep on keeping the world posted about how our ‘training’ is going, and, yes, he does grab the skin on my chin and neck. It’s sore, but I reckon I prefer it to having my peace interrupted with a ride-on car to the head!

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