How to discipline your baby: 10 golden rules that work

December 03, 2018
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    Months ago, your newborn was just a cuddly, cute bundle of joy. These days, she starts to show signs of the horrible tantrums where mealtimes and bedtime are a constant battle. 

    Before you decide on the best discipline strategy, one thing to note is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s important to understand why your little one behaves the way she does, and pick your battles wisely, so you can discipline with love.

    Here are 10 rules you should know to raise your toddler the right way.  

    Related: What to do when you baby throws tantrum in public 

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  • There’s no such thing as a bad baby
    2 / 11 There’s no such thing as a bad baby

    Child developmental experts say young children, with their underdeveloped impulse control, aren’t cognitively capable of being mean-spirited or malicious. 

    So the question is: why is your little one behaving so badly? 

    “Babies and children are naturally wonderful to be with. They don’t usually behave badly if adults understand them and are able to meet their needs,” says early child education expert Patricia Koh, chief executive and education ambassador of Maple Bear Singapore.

    “On the other hand, parents who are impatient and unreasonable with their children tend to attract ‘bad behaviour’. Your child may have also misunderstood your expectations, and therefore not behaved correctly.”

    Related: 8 secrets to toddler discipline

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  • Remember that she’s still young
    3 / 11 Remember that she’s still young

    Be realistic about your child’s needs, and understand why she might be acting up. “It’s unreasonable to expect a two-year-old to sit still through a 10-course Chinese wedding dinner, a church service or concert without demanding any attention,” Patricia says.

    Don’t forget that, babies and toddlers are just like adults, they too, experience intense feelings or act up when they are tired, hungry, bored or unwell. 

    So, if your shopping trip coincides with your child’s mealtime, pack food to stave off hunger, suggests Sarah Chua, parenting specialist from Focus on the Family Singapore.

    “Avoid scheduling too many activities at one go, or those that disrupt naptime,” she adds.

    Related: Dealing with toddler tantrums 

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  • Drop the naughty label
    4 / 11 Drop the naughty label

    Do you tell your child she’s “naughty”? Don’t. 

    Such labelling doesn’t encourage good behaviour. “When used too casually and frequently, your child may think that you are labelling her character instead of the misbehaviour,” Sarah says.

    Additionally, young children do not fully understand what the word – or any other negative label – means, Patricia adds. 

    The next time you’re tempted to say “you’re a bad, bad girl”, experts advise the best way is to state and explain what she has done wrong. 

    Be specific about it. For example, if she is screaming, Patricia suggests saying: “You are screaming. It is too noisy. Can you tell me what you want in a nice voice?”

    Related: Would you use a child leash? 

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  • The younger she is, the more rules she needs
    5 / 11 The younger she is, the more rules she needs

    Meeting your little one’s needs does not mean mollycoddling her. If you get into the habit of giving in whenever she screams, kicks or hits, she will learn that this is an effective way to get what she wants, and will continue to do so to get her way, Patricia warns.

    Research has shown that a child’s early years are crucial when it comes to establishing behaviour. Once bad behaviour patterns are fixed, they may be difficult to change. The younger your child is, the more boundaries you should set – not the other way round, Sarah says. 

    Your baby should not be the one dictating when she bathes or nap, but you may engage her by letting her make some choices, such as her preferred choice of clothing (that purple skirt or this yellow dress?) after bath time or after-nap activities (play with blocks or puzzles?).

    “As your child grows older and is able to think more independently, she can be left to explore and make more decisions for herself, especially if you’ve been setting healthy boundaries throughout the formative years,” she says.

    Related: Dealing with anger towards your toddler 

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  • Apply the law of cause and effect
    6 / 11 Apply the law of cause and effect

    A discipline tactic which the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates is to let the consequences of your toddler’s misbehaviour unfold naturally. This means doling out tough love and not bailing your child out of sticky situations, even if it pains you to see her unhappy. 

    For instance, if your picky eater intentionally throws food on the floor despite repeated reminders, calmly clear it away and not offer more until the next meal, Sarah suggests.

    “This is a better consequence than threatening to take away privileges – for example, ‘No TV unless you eat!’ – or forcing your toddler to eat. It lets her learn the value of food and the consequence of wastage,” she says.

    Related: 6 toddler feeding problems: how you can solve them 

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  • Timeouts work for toddlers
    7 / 11 Timeouts work for toddlers

    Timeouts are another tried-and-tested discipline technique which the AAP says works best on kids from age two, especially when your tot has broken a specific rule.

    The rule of thumb is to set a minute of timeout for every year of age: a two-year-old gets two minutes, while a three-year-old gets three.

    Take her to a place where it is safe and not distracting, such as a corner or chair. For this strategy to work, it is important to have a “debrief” session – speak with your child to help her manage her emotions and understand what she did wrong, says Sarah. 

    Related: How to use time-out on toddler


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  • Redirect Baby’s angst
    8 / 11 Redirect Baby’s angst

    As younger children have a short attention span, diversion would make a great sanity saving tool. The timeout technique will not work on an infant, so parents can try a simple “swoop and scoop” to remove her from the situation or simply distract her with something else, Sarah says. 

    Distraction works well on toddlers as well, and can help prevent full-blown meltdowns. “Using the distraction approach, young kids usually forget what they originally want quickly,” Patricia says.

    She suggests redirecting your child’s unhappiness by using fun, wholesome activities – a simple game, story or action song. For example, if your whiney two-year old expects to be carried all the time, you could turn walking into a fun experience by having a race.

    Related: Dealing with a defiant two-year-old


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  • Keep the rotan
    9 / 11 Keep the rotan

    According to the AAP, corporal punishment can leave lasting psychological marks on your child. Research has shown that kids who are spanked are more likely to become adults who are depressed, use alcohol, have more anger, as well as engage in crime and violence.

    Patricia explains why using corporal punishment is ironic: “How do you tell a child not to hit or use physical force, if you are doing it to him? Children model after adults, so this form of punishment doesn’t help,” she says.

    Sarah urges parents to first explore other alternative strategies. If physical discipline is really needed, you must “have self-control, and never discipline in anger”, she adds.

    Related: 5 ways to discipline children without caning or hitting


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  • Discipline is about love
    10 / 11 Discipline is about love

    Almost every parent has lost her cool at a shrieking toddler and meted out harsh punishment that she later regretted. If you’re feeling stressed, take time out to recollect your thoughts and emotions before addressing your child’s misbehaviour, Sarah advices. 

    Always remember to offer a hug at the end of it to reassure your child that you love her, Patricia adds. After all, healthy discipline stems from your love for your little one.

    “Discipline is not about punishment or making your child behave the way you want her to behave. It is about guiding her to behave rightly and establishing age-appropriate boundaries,” says Sarah. “Most of all, it is about wanting the best for your child.”

    Related: Why you should discipline your one-year-old 

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  • Everyone must be on the same page
    11 / 11 Everyone must be on the same page

    Mummy says “no”, Daddy says “maybe” and Grandma says “yes”. So who’s the boss?

    Eventually, your little one will figure out who the weakest link is when it comes to getting her way. Successful parenting is about consistency, the experts say. 

    “Your child must know that you are also on your spouse’s side, so he cannot get away with unacceptable behaviour,” Patricia explains. 


    Related: 10 signs that your toddler is spoiled

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How do you know if you're too soft with your preschooler? Most children like to have or do whatever they want – and that’s where learning to follow rules and thinking about others come in. A positive, warm, fair and consistent style of discipline at home encourages your child to think of others, not just of herself. However, some parents prefer to take a softer approach. But where do you draw the line? Here are 10 signs that you may be too soft with your kid. 1. You never say “no”
No matter how well behaved, every child needs to have limits set on their behaviour at times. And that’s why every parent – including you – occasionally has to say “no” to their kid, whether it’s denying her request for extra sweets, or refusing to let her play past her bedtime. 
2. When she complains, you always give in
It’s very difficult to stand your ground in the face of a raging child who is determined to get her own way. But if you give in to your kindergartener every time she challenges you, she’ll quickly learn that you don’t mean what you say, and she’ll scream even louder the next time. 
3. Her cupboards are full of unopened toys
Although she is bound to have her favourite toys, there’s no point in giving her so much that she just stuffs unopened packages in her cupboard. That suggests you give her too much, too often. 
4. Others say that your child is spoilt
You probably don’t think you overindulge her, so it might come as a shock to you when your friends suggest that you spoil her and are too soft. But if they have noticed this, maybe you need to step back and consider the comment more seriously. 5. She always expects to get her way
Part of growing up involves learning to think of others. A child who is treated too softly by her parents expects to be in the driver’s seat all the time, even with friends. So she assumes, for example, that she’ll always be first in line at every game. 6. You never carry out your threats of punishment
Positive discipline also involves appropriate punishment, when required.  If you find that you make regular threats but never actually carry them out, then your six-year-old will realise you are a soft touch, and that your warnings are hollow. 7. You allow her to be rude to you
Instead of reprimanding her for antisocial and impolite comments, you accept what she says without challenge, perhaps because you think she is being cute. Bear in mind, though, that although you may be tolerant of her rudeness, others won’t be so accepting of it. 8. She is allowed to break the rules all the time
Some people say that rules are made to be broken, but they are usually made to be observed. That’s why you need to encourage her to follow the limits you have set. A soft parent bends the rules so often that they become meaningless. 9. Every day is a “special occasion” Of course, there are days when normal discipline is interpreted more flexibly, for example, on her birthday, at a large family gathering, or during holidays. But these should be infrequent occurrences, not something that happens several times each week. 10. You buy her something every single shopping trip One of the delights of parenting is buying your child a special present – her reaction is heart-warming. However, these experiences become less important if they happen during every shopping expedition, and she will soon lose interest. (Photos:

10 signs you’re spoiling your preschooler

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