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Discipline: How Soon Should You Start?

Henry, my then 20-month-old, was a fierce competitor in his favorite game, known as High-chair Toss. Scheduled every night at dinnertime to coincide exactly with the depletion of my patience, it involved Henry's hurling bits of food from his tray, going for both speed and distance. "No, Henry, we don't throw food," I'd say. He'd look at me, then blithely fling the pasta, hitting three walls of the kitchen simultaneously (extra points). Exasperated, I'd pull him out of his high chair.

Toddler discipline seems almost an oxymoron to any mom who's tried to exert even minimal control at that age. But if you think of it less as punishment and more as a way of teaching your child what's good and safe behavior, the sooner you start, the better.

The first step: Childproof
Discipline -- for an 8-month-old or so -- is simply about conveying the meaning of "no" and taking her away from dangerous situations. So when she reaches for your cup of coffee, all you can do is say, "No. Hot!" and move it beyond her grasp.

Once your child starts to crawl, however, the equation changes dramatically. Babies are hardwired to explore their environment, which, as any mom will attest, may as well be full of piranhas for all the dangers lurking there.

The key is to balance that sense of wonder and exploration with keeping your baby safe. Childproofing your home is not only a boon to your sanity, it can also head off unnecessary battles. Rather than try to explain to a 9-month-old why she can't stick her finger in an electrical outlet, buy the super-value pack of outlet covers and let her roam freely.

Abby Margolis Newman, the mother of three boys, has written for The New York Times and e-Scholastic.