Children from birth to age three present some of both the greatest joys and challenges a parent will experience, especially the new parent. There is, on the one hand, the amazement and wonder at having been gifted with this beautiful, tiny life. On the other hand, there is potential for major frustration as the parent quickly learns that her life, schedule, and priorities are no longer of primary import, or possibly even her own, having been subjugated to the basic human needs of this child. This is partly why children under the age of five are at greater risk of physical abuse.
While it is certainly possible and definitely appropriate to initiate a disciplinary system with a child in this age range, the focus should be primarily on teaching and intervention.
During this primary stage of development, a child’s learning is directly tied to her experience with her environment. She is also learning “object permanence,” or that things continue to exist whether she can see them or not. This is vital to her process of learning language. You can help her (and yourself) now by teaching her the word “no” and removing things from her grip that she should not have, and things from her sight that are problematic.
This is also when your baby’s style and level of attachment to others is the most influenced and developed. In order to develop healthy attachments to others, your child needs to trust that you love him and will keep him safe while he explores this big new world, especially once he is able to crawl and walk. For this reason, it’s important for you to try your hardest to remain calm when you say “no” and redirect him. Even if he is heading toward certain danger or catastrophe, try not to get hysterical. If he’s as curious as he should be, you are going to have to save his little hide a LOT. So don’t panic.
The most important reason for keeping your cool with your infant, whether he is screaming, refusing to sleep when you want to, crying endlessly, pushing the limits of exploration into dangerous territory, or otherwise driving you nuts, is that this is the age at which children are their most vulnerable. As such, physical contact driven by anger or frustration with an infant or toddler is much more likely to produce dire injury, trauma, developmental consequences, or even death than with children at any other age.
Did you know? Children two and younger have the highest rates of bone injury, inflicted head trauma, and abuse-related fatalities. Don’t let temporary frustration cause your child to become a permanent part of this terrible factoid.
Next time, we’ll look at ways to respond to misbehavior and acting out among preschool-aged children (3-5 years old). Until then, here’s to the health, safety, and happiness of you and your family!