Setting Limits for Your Baby

How should you enforce the limits you set? Most parents start by saying, "No!" More often than not, this warning in itself is effective in stopping your baby from doing something dangerous, harmful, or destructive. The tone you use (even more than the word itself) probably stops your infant in his tracks. With this single word, he instantly gets the message: What he was doing, or was about to do, was unacceptable and you don't like it when he does that.

Depending on his personality, your baby may collapse into tears when you say "No!" If so, then go to him and offer him comfort and the reassurance that you love him even when you don't like what he's doing. Remain firm about your limits: Don't let him resume the behavior when he's calmed down, but demonstrate your love at the same time.

When you say, "No!", try to sound stern without yelling or getting angry. Keep in mind that your baby is only a baby. Don't let him get away with murder, but don't get really angry at him for behaving like a baby either. The sharpness and sternness of your voice will startle your baby; yelling or anger will frighten him. And once you scare your baby--no matter how appropriate it may seem after he's bit someone or been caught halfway up the stairs--you lose him. Any chance of teaching a lesson about safety or fairness is gone.

Don't Get Mad, Get Even (Tempered)

Baby Doctor

If you often lose your temper at your baby, try to figure out why. Could you be angry about anything else? Or angry at someone else? Are you angry at yourself? Do you feel abandoned and/or overwhelmed? Have you set standards for your baby's behavior that are unreasonable? You may need the help of a professional to sort it all out.


If you do blow up at your baby, give yourself a few minutes to calm down and regain control of your emotions. Then immediately go to your baby (and your partner) and apologize. Your baby needs reassurance that you love her no matter how angry you feel.

You may be surprised how angry you can get at an innocent little baby. Even though she can't be held responsible or blamed for her behavior, you have every right to get angry at your child. At times, especially when she does something unsafe or something that hurts others, you may even lose your temper and yell at your infant.

No doubt you feel terrible; you should. Your anger almost certainly frightens your baby. But occasional angry outbursts will do her no lasting harm. In fact, letting your anger out may do less long-term harm than holding it in. Bottled-up anger and resentment can eat away at the good relationship you're trying to maintain with your baby. By contrast, an isolated outburst of anger (if handled properly) can quickly be put behind you, allowing you and your baby to relish each other's company again. So don't worry too much about your tirades unless they become habitual.

If your anger does seem out of control, calm yourself down rather than try to discipline your child at that moment. When coupled with rage, "discipline" can quickly escalate into abuse. By waiting, you may miss the chance to connect your scolding with the "misbehavior" that occasioned it because your child will no longer remember what she did that was so bad. But better to deal with correcting her behavior next time than to do damage to your child now.

By regaining control of your anger, you will (eventually) serve as a role model for your baby. She will learn from you more constructive ways of expressing anger than through yelling or hitting. Isn't this part of the discipline you want to teach her, too?

More on: Babies


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby © 1997 by Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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