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

by | Aug 25, 2014 | Babies, Mailbag, Parenting With Authority | 26 comments

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.


  1. Robyn Mason

    I would like to be writing a thoughtful or thought provoking comment on the content of this post, because I'm sure it's articulate and funny as per usual. However, I couldn't actually read the post, because I couldn't get past the adorable, beaming face! Ha! Hold my brain; be still my beating ovaries.

    • Rosa Patterson

      I'm not usually a "laugh out loud" type of person (when it comes to reading comments etc) but the beating ovaries comment just killed me.

  2. Rose G.

    Thank you for posting this. I was going to email you with the same question about when to start "not food", "not for babies", and "crying babies go to bed." I have a 5-month-old girl (my first baby), and I can tell it is too early to start disciplining her right now, but I want to know when to start so that I can be the boss of her when she's a 1-year-old! She's about to start solid food, so I enjoyed your recent post about that too. I love, love, love your blog!

  3. Amanda

    Lulu is so freakin adorable! She's really starting to look like your older kids a lot now, wow! You can see her face slowly transitioning from baby to toddler.

    We do pretty much the exact same thing as you with our pre toddlers and toddlers. I also find that all of mine 'get' the concept of no between 9-12 months old. I still remember the first time my firstborn put down the grass after I firmly said "that's a no" from across the yard. I was kind of shocked he obeyed but I pretended that was exactly what I'd expected him to do 😉 He was 9 months old. My daughter has been the latest to need discipline and understand it because she just doesn't test boundaries as much so there were fewer opportunities. I didn't even start consequences with her at all until 15/16 months because she was just so chill, which was crazy. I think she's had time-out four times and she's 21 months already.

  4. Amanda

    She is so cute! So cute!

    I have a similar strategy, wherein I just keep moving said object away from child's mouth until they become distraught that I would stop them from eating the mail!!! and realize I mean it.

    It's funny how much I stressed about this with the first kid and how easy and obvious it seems with #4. (Like so many other baby things – that 10,000 hours really helps)

    • Kendra

      Thanks! And yes, this was all SO hard with my first, and now it just happens so easily.

  5. Melanie Corbett

    I disagree with this approach. Punishment is not discipline, which means to teach, and hitting your children, no matter the wording, is something I can not condone. I have an almost 4yo and a 9mo. Neither have needed to be hit in order to learn boundaries. Both are very well behaved children the majority of the time with exceptions for big feelings shared intensely with mom or dad at home, though I don't see that as poor behavior, as you apparently might.

    • Kendra

      Thanks Melanie, I appreciate your comment, and I totally support you handling your kids a different way. This is what has worked for us, and I'm comfortable with it, and I haven't had any adverse effects with my kids from using it. But you have to parent according to your own gut, and there are other ways to help kids learn these concepts.

    • Sally

      I agree with Melanie, and I am shocked at the notion that any parent – mother or father – would hit an infant in an effort to "discipline" him. Call it "hand-spanking," "swatting," whatever – hitting is hitting. Legally speaking, it is assault.

      There are many studies out there that conclude pretty unanimously (90+% agreement) that hitting results in increased aggressive behavior later on as well as impaired cognitive development. Some studies showed that spanking had long-term negative effects on children's behavior and language skill development.

      Hitting may work in the short term, but parental gut aside, studies are clear that it is not a solution for the long term.

    • Kendra

      Sally, your assertions just aren't borne out in my personal experience with my children. They are happy, attached, well-adjusted, smart, and utterly non-violent. They are also well-behaved in public, even at one and two years old, and I can trust them not to run into parking lots, go out the front door when I'm not looking or root around in the pantry without permission.

      You're welcome to parent as you see fit, but spankings, used calmly and judiciously by parents without a history of abuse or violence by or against them don't do any of the things you allege. If you live anywhere near LA, I invite you to come over and meet my kids to see.

    • Sally

      Kendra, I believe you. And I am sure that your children are as delightful in real life as they are in your blog. That said, the plural of anecdote is not data. The studies – peer-reviewed, well-respected studies – are clear on these points.

      For the record, I admire you and your family, and love your blog.

    • Leila C

      I know this post is a year old but I wanted to comment anyways!
      I would have some questions to ask about the assertion that 90% of studies have shown that "hitting" and spanking result in poor behaviour and development.

      1. Provide a link to some of these studies?
      2. How did these studies establish causation? How can you control for all the factors surrounding someone's development such as the parents' temperament, their socio-economic status, their genetic disposition towards violence, whether they watched TV or not, etc?
      3. How can you design an ethical, high quality study that would come to these conclusions? You cannot ethically do an experiment in which you single out some families for a certain discipline style and control for all other factors that influence behaviour.
      4. How do the studies define hitting and spanking?
      I am under the impression that hand spanking and spanking in general are not ever done to hurt, injure or assault a child, but more so in order to surprise them (more of a hand "tap" if you will). Spanking should never be done out of anger or frustration or with the goal of hurting the child! It should not be done impulsively when a parent flies off the handle.
      6. How was the data collected? If it was through self reporting surveys, then it is not super reliable. Was it through researchers spending all day every day in a home observing parents and children for years and years?

      Not saying the studies are wrong, or that I know better than the researchers, but I *am* skeptical! I am curious how they came to these conclusions!

      That is all.

  6. Elizabeth

    My son is 9.5 months old, and we're probably just a couple months away from the point when he will start to understand consequences. I've been thinking about your post "how to be the boss of a one-year-old" and about what our strategy will be when we get beyond "not for babies." At this point we're not planning to use any form of spanking, but I like the "timeout in the crib" tactic. My question is this: if you're putting baby in the crib as a punishment, is there not a risk of him associating the crib with negative feelings and not wanting to sleep there? (As a little background, our son currently sleeps in our bed at night but sleeps in his crib for most naps and the first part of the night when we're still up. So whether the crib is used for timeout or not, I anticipate a bit of a rough patch when we eventually transition to him sleeping all night in the crib.)

    • Kendra

      I haven't seen that be an issue at all, Elizabeth. Sometimes we use cribs, or chairs, or corners, or rooms as places for timeouts and my kids haven't ever had a problem using those things for other purposes. I think as long as YOU act like it's not a big deal, it won't be.

  7. Betsy

    Have you ever had one of your kids think "not for babies" or "not food" was a game? My boys seemed to think when I pulled them away from something they weren't supposed to have and said "not for babies" or "not food" it was a game (not always, but often enough to be extremely frustrating). What would you do in this instance? I have another boy who will need these phrases soon enough 🙂

    • Kendra

      Sure! But that's when I use the "huge gasp of surprise" and the "exaggerated knitted brow of disapproval." It can't be a game if we're not both playing, and if I can contain my giggles and act very serious, usually they get the message.

    • Amanda

      My 9 month old frequently thinks it's very funny when I repeatedly pull whatever she shouldn't be chewing on out of her mouth. But if I keep it up (because I'm the boss of her 🙂 pretty soon she's mad. Against all common sense, this is a good reaction because it means she gets that I'm serious and then she doesn't try again, moves on, and I've won one small battle.

  8. Kate

    Have you ever had to deal with the problem of older kids trying to give hand spankings to the younger ones? If so, how do you deal with that and explain that it's ok for Mom or Dad to administer a hand spanking, but not ok for a child to do so? We have a 4 year old, 2 year old, and 4 month old. We also use a little hand spanking if one child is willfully disobedient. We make sure that we do it very calmly (so they don't think they can hit out of anger), and we very clearly articulate that they will get a hand spanking if they continue to make bad decisions. My 4 year old likes to play "little mother" or "babysitter" and she has tried to give the 2 year old a spanking. Just wondering your thoughts.

    BTW: Just discovered your blog about a month ago and I love it.

    • Kendra

      Thanks Kate, yes, that's another thing that has to be a rule in our house. My big kids do lots of looking after and correcting if little kids, but only mom and dad give spankings. So, it's just a rule like any other. I'd say, "No. That's not your job. That is only a job for Mommy. If you spank your brother again there will be no screens/treats/favorite doll at bedtime/whatever." And then just calmly and consistently mean what you say. I wouldn't make an especially big deal of it. It's just one of the rules. We really don't have problems with it now.

  9. Nanacamille

    Frankie and Louise are from two different planets I'm sure or at least not from the same family……but they are and boy are they two different babies. Frankie was very challenging and I'm surprised he wasn't sold to the Gypsies at one point or another but now he's an adorable almost 3 and very lovey. Louise is the sweetest baby who ever lived and can;t see her doing anything wrong or at least giving such a big smile that you forgive her immediately.

  10. Sarah C.

    How do you deal with screaming? Since we returned from vacation with my husband's family, our daughter has started screaming randomly (of course, at the most inopportune times).

    • Kendra

      Well, full disclosure, Frankie got me kicked out of a library, an adoration chapel, and an entire parish with his shrieking. Soooo . . .

      But he doesn't do it NOW. Which is nice. I deal with it with babies with the big gasp and exaggerated facial expressions I've mentioned before. And saying, "No, no screaming." For babies that care what you think, if you really, consistently, calmly look shocked and displeased, they get the message and stop (mostly). But for babies who are not motivated by pleasing you (like Frankie) it took consequences like hand spankings and time outs (both in public places) and lots of time and patience (and frustration and embarrassment) to stop the behavior.

  11. Kendra

    Hey Tessin, I'm sorry. I know how frustrating that can be. It took a lot of time and mistakes to figure out how to deal with our oldest, and we got four relatively easy ones after that before we got another stinker, and it was much easier to not take the behavior personally the second time around. It really is just a different kind of kid. They are a bigger challenge to parent, but I think they make really terrific, self-confident adults. Small consolation now, but I think it's true.

    We do quit spanking kids at some point, once they can be reasoned with, but exactly when that is depends on the kid.

    In your situation, I'd really recommend the following books, which really helped me figure out how to parent a difficult kid.
    How to Really Love Your Angry Child (Out of print, but available used on Amazon, or maybe at your library.)
    Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime (This one has lots of great strategies for dealing with older kids.)
    Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (And, kind of random, but if you want to read about what your daughter's kind of tenacity can do for an adult, read this book.)

  12. Tessin Maxwell

    Thank you, Kendra! I am truly grateful for you taking time out of your busy life to help me out! (Seriously, I cried. Am crying.) I will check those books out.
    Thanks again,

  13. Jims linda

    Mmm.. good to be here in your article or post, whatever, I think I should also work hard for my own website like I see some good and updated working in your site. baby earmuffs

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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