First, remember that discipline is not about punishment - it's about guiding your children so that one day, they can differentiate between right and wrong.
For newborns, you shouldn't worry too much about disciplining them. Your job as a parent is to cater to their every need. This way, they feel safe and secure. "When they cry, you go in to them. When their diaper is wet, you change their diaper. If they're hungry, you feed them," says O'Brien. Crying in their crib in the middle of the night is okay. Pick them up, swadle them, and make them feel safe again. Remember that not too long ago, they were safe and warm in the womb. Now, they're in this strange new world. Sometimes, infants just need reassurance that you are there to take care of them.
From 4-7 months, children change. You may begin to notice your child grabbing at earrings or pulling at your hair. This is normal behavior; don't get frustrated by it. "Resist the urge to laugh or let them do that. Distract them," says O'Brien. By grabbing on to things, your child is learning about the world and exploring new things around them. Don't get discouraged. Instead, offer them a toy to grab instead of your new glasses.
At 7-12 months, chances are, your child is fully mobile. They're up and running around, so now is the time to baby-proof your house. "Put anything hazardous behind lock and key," says O'Brien. It's your job as a parent to create a safe environment for them to explore.
At the same time, every object shouldn't be off limits. Consider leaving the cabinet where your pots and pans are stored unlocked so that your child can play with objects that won't hurt them. Give them some wooden spoons and let them pretend to play the drums. Or, set toys up around the room so that they have safe objects to grab onto instead of breakable ones.
Remember that this stage isn't forever, though. Grandma's antique glass vase doesn't have to be permanently banished from your coffee table. It just has to stay locked up until your son or daughter learns that if they pull heavy things down, they can break the object or it can hurt them.
From 12-18 months, your child will develop stronger language skills and the ability to yell... loudly. While this behavior may be okay at home, it's not acceptable in a restaurant or a place of worship. "Resist the urge to scream at them, or even laugh," says O'Brien. Instead, distract your child. Bring books or quiet toys along with you to keep your child occupied during these quiet times. "If all else fails, you might just have to pick them up and leave," says O'Brien.
At 18-24 months, your child is a full-blown toddler. While children in this age group have good language skills, they can't always express what they're feeling, which can lead to tantrums. "You're going to have to help them," says O'Brien. "They get frustrated."
If your child is crying because they want a candy bar before dinner, get down on your child's level and help them express what they're feeling. Chances are, your child is yelling, "I want candy!" over and over. Instead of telling them why they can't eat before dinner (toddlers don't have the ability to reason this out), say something like, "I know you want a candy bar, but you can't have it now. You're upset because I won't give you candy." Repeat yourself if you have to. Often times, when a toddler hears that you understand what they're feeling, they'll calm down.
Also, look for behavior patters and avoid them. If you know your child cries for a new toy every time you pass the toy store at the mall, consider parking at another entrance so you don't pass the store in the first place.
For more information on disciplining your child, as well as additional parenting advice, click here to visit www.AmericanBaby.com.
By Erin Petrun