We are continuing reposting Joyce's popular series on homeschooling with preschoolers.
Today: Discipline for Babies
When we hear the word “discipline,” most of us think of spanking, grounding, sending a child to its room, withholding a privilege or some such similar action. Yet, none of these is discipline. They are all important because they are part of the punishment phase of discipline, but in and of themselves they are not discipline.
If these things that we have always imagined to be discipline are actually only punishment, what is discipline? Webster defines discipline as “training that is expected to produce a specified character or pattern of behavior, especially that which is expected to produce moral or mental improvement.” If we accept this definition, we must conclude that if we want our children to become disciplined adults, we must concentrate on training them.
God has promised us that if we “train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) That promise provides a powerful incentive to train our children, but if we are to be successful, we must be willing to devote a good deal of our time and energy to the training process.
I believe that the most effective training is a two-part process that involves both physical and spiritual discipline. If either is neglected, children will lack some important elements that contribute to the well-disciplined life. I also believe that the training that produces a disciplined individual should begin early—preferably at birth. Therefore, in this blog I am focusing on discipline for babies.
Beginning with the birth of my first child I tried to provide a predictable routine that would help them thrive, both physically and spiritually. Thus, training began for our children the day that they came home from the hospital. Every evening I bathed them, changed their diapers, and nursed them. And promptly at 7:00 p.m. I put them in their cribs. Sometimes they fell asleep while they were nursing so that they were already asleep when I put them down, but if they were still awake after eating, I put them to bed anyway. I did, of course, get up in the night to nurse them, and I spent a considerable amount of time sitting in a rocking chair while the rest of the family slept, but bedtime had been established, and this simple bedtime rule began to bring order to their lives.
From the very beginning I established nap times, mealtimes, and bath times. I allowed my babies to nurse on demand, but meals were served at the same time each day. When my babies were old enough for solid food, I fed them their baby meals when the family ate. Because they ate their meals at the same time each day, as they grew older they rarely asked for snacks, and because they rarely ate between meals, they had good appetites at mealtimes.
Another extremely important facet of discipline that I began at birth was Bible reading. When my first child was born, I took my Bible to the hospital, and whenever the nurse brought her to me, I read the Bible to her. When we went home, I took time each day to sit in my rocker and read the Bible to her as we rocked. As Alexandra grew older she was accustomed to sitting quietly while I read the Bible aloud to her, and she did not find it difficult to continue doing so. As each new child came along—a total of ten in a little more than twelve years—he or she became accustomed to listening to the Bible in the same way. The older child moved from my lap to sit beside me on the couch while I read the Bible. Thus, we had a line of children arranged according to their ages with the oldest on the end and the baby on my lap. Because each child was introduced to the Bible reading at birth, I never had a problem teaching them to sit quietly during this reading. When they were very small, they occasionally tried to talk or get up and walk around the room, but I always told them that they had to sit down and be quiet until we finished, and they accommodated me.
A third thing that babies should be taught is to share. Sharing is important because it encompasses both physical and spiritual training—giving up something to benefit someone else. We tend either to “give in” to infants who cry because they want something or to ignore them completely. Neither of these options is a good one. I always talked to my infants as if they were adults. I explained to them that they could not take their older siblings’ toys, and I did not allow the older siblings to take theirs. However, I did make it clear that if no one were playing with a toy, anyone could play with it, regardless of who was the legitimate owner.
It might seem a little strange to talk to a baby who cannot answer, but I discovered that babies are able to understand language long before they are able to speak. By not only telling them that they could not do a particular thing but also explaining why they could not do it, I ensured that at the earliest possible moment they would begin to learn the rules.
Next week: Discipline for Children
Joyce Swann is a nationally-known author and speaker. Her own story of teaching her ten children from the first grade through master’s degrees before their seventeenth birthdays is retold in her book, Looking Backward: My Twenty-Five Years as a Homeschooling Mother Her newest novel, The Warrior, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information visit her website at http://www.frontier2000.net/ or like her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/frontier2000mediagroup