Babies and Discipline: When, Where, and How Much?

It's our first day of school! So . . . I'm going to throw up a question from the mailbag, since it's already typed up. Perhaps it would be of interest to some other newish mamas out there.


(it was a long one so I'm going to excerpt it here . . . )

Dear Kendra,

We're getting to the stage where discipline needs to begin and I was hoping you could share your advice. I know many things depend on the child, but I'm curious at what age you start the "crying is for babies" timeout and hand-spanking? I know Andy, our nine month old son, is starting to realize right from wrong but I'm unsure if I say "not for babies" and he does it anyways and then I put him in his crib that he will "get it". What have you found?

Also, I'm curious from your experience, do children feel like hand spanking is a punishment? Do you hand spank relatively hard?

Do hand spankings help if a child is throwing a fit in a public place? I've read that you should just threaten to leave that place but that seems like more of a punishment for me. I don't want to have to leave the grocery store because my child is having a tantrum.



Hey Betsy,

Lulu is just about at this same age, she's eight months, and for me it's a transitional time. I've started saying "not for babies" and "not food" to her, and I remove the thing she shouldn't have from her, even if she gets upset about it. But I don't yet do hand spankings or time outs in the crib. She doesn't seem to me to be doing things intentionally yet.

But, once I get that feeling from her, once she starts looking me in the eye and doing it again, then I'll start consequences. I want to give her time to gain an understanding of what the words I'm saying mean. I think she's just starting to get that understanding now. But not quite yet.

At this age I start by saying "not for babies" and following through by taking the item away from the baby or moving the baby away from the item. That way, she'll begin to associate the words "not for babies" with an action "not doing that anymore." Later on, sometime between 12 and 18 months, I expect the baby to be able to not touch things that are "not for babies" even if I leave the baby and the item right where they are.

If Andy "gets it" then it might be time to start consequences. I start with very very very light hand spankings. For some kids the shock of the IDEA of it is enough to change their behavior. For other kids, it actually needs to hurt to make a difference. You'll get to know what works for your kid.

I've had kids who were really bothered by hand spankings and some who didn't appear to be bothered by them one bit, but in both cases, I've still found it to be effective in changing behavior if it's used calmly and consistently. My kids who acted like it didn't bother them still preferred to NOT get one. But that's more of an issue with preschoolers, not babies.

I try to introduce concepts in discipline early, before I expect them to be able to understand completely, in the hopes of catching that understanding as early as possible. So, if Lulu grabs my shopping list and puts it in to her mouth, I'll say, "not food" and lower her hand from her mouth for her. I know she doesn't quite understand yet, but she's right there in front of me in the cart, so I can just keep saying "not food" as often as she puts it in her mouth. It's just introducing the concept at this point, no consequences, no drama.

Once I think she's ready for consequences, we try it to see if it works. If she doesn't seem to understand, if the consequences aren't changing the behavior, then we'd give it a month and try again when she's a little older. All of our kids have been ready for discipline, both hand spankings and time outs, and we saw changes in behavior because of it, by 12 months.

I wrote a whole post on how we handle discipline with one year olds, you can read it here:


For a nine month old, I really focus on trying to avoid situations that are going to cause a meltdown in the first place. So I make sure she's getting plenty of sleep, I always bring snacks for her (which I don't do with the older kids) and I gauge how she does with errands as I plan my day. Lulu loves being out and about and between smiling at people from the cart or snuggling with me in the Ergo, she doesn't mind errands. Frankie was different, I had to pretty much just do one errand, then come home, or I risked a meltdown.

I think you're right to start thinking about discipline now, but I'd start slowly, focusing mostly on consistency and communication and appropriate expectations.

As my kids get older, I expect them to be able to control their behavior more.

We've really gotten to the point where we don't have meltdowns in public. I've probably just jinxed myself, but I can't remember the last time I had a kid freak out in a store. They just know better. It's important to me that my kids learn to keep their emotions under control. They are allowed to be upset or frustrated or mad, but they're not allowed to freak out.

Frankie was a shrieker, and I had trouble getting him to be quiet enough for places like church and the library, but it wasn't an issue of tantrums. He was just a really noisy kid. I make a big deal with my kids of behaving properly in public. Even if they've hurt themselves a little. But I mostly just do it by talking to them. Eye contact. Huge gasps of surprise that such a nice little boy would behave like that. Strong voice. "We do NOT behave like this in a store. You need to compose yourself right now." That sort of thing.

I mostly use hand spankings at home to stop repeat behaviors. "No slamming doors. If you slam a door again you will get a hand spanking." Mostly, for me, there aren't situations in a store that would necessitate a hand spanking. Mostly things in a store are "No shrieking. If you can't use an inside voice, I'm going to put the mini wheats back and get plain Cheerios." Or "You must stay next to Mommy or you'll have to be buckled in to the cart."

Hand spanking in public is tricky. I'm not against it, and I've done it, and I'm not going to limit my parenting choices based completely on other people. But I do know of a handful of people who have had to deal with lots of unpleasantness and inconvenience based on other people's opinions of their parenting. So, you do have to exercise judgment on your public parenting decisions.


Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.