Can you discipline a 9 month old?

AlamogirlJanuary 18, 2002

My friend came to visit from out of town and brought her 9 month old with her. Her baby was out of control. She SCREAMED all the time. She lets out these ear piercing painful screams periodically and then in the car she would scream and thrash around, just throwing a fit. My friend just ignores the behavior and hopes it goes away, but it has been happening for 6 weeks she said.

My baby is 2 months old, and I dread when she gets to be that old. But what can you do? My friend insists that her girl is "just a baby." But I think that you should be able to do SOMETHING. Help me out here, I want to prevent future deafness, LOL.



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she is just a baby. What would you expect the mother to do? You can not reason with a baby. Ignoring it or trying to distract her is the only thing you can do.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2002 at 11:46PM
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First off-- every kid is different!! I have a 10 month old and have never had the problem you are describing. The only time DS fusses is when he's got a reason (over-tired, hungry or not getting enough attention). Since your friend kind of had a "beginning" for the behavior, could her child have been sick--something low grade that might go unnoticed for awhile-- maybe an ear infection or allergy? I understand allergies can have a wide variety of effects-- including grumpiness.

Anyway-- the above poster is right-- once a behaviour begins you really you really can't reason them out of it at this age and can only hope to "teach" them that it no longer works to get them what they want. But if you can keep them from stumbling onto that behaviour as something that "works" in the first place, I think you are ahead of the game.

You asked about discipline-- I think the best way to achieve what you are looking for is to prevent problems before they happen (which seems to be why you are asking NOW). I think that kids who are happy, active, and feel loved are a lot less likely to be causing problems-- and are more inclined to want to please you. So I would suggest you begin now to teach your child how to amuse herself. I know your baby is only 2 mo-- but begin letting her spend time on her own-- in the bouncy seat looking out the window or with one of those mat gyms, for instance. Of course-- don't let her out of your site-- have her in the same room while you are doing something else. When DS was little, we had some basic routines-- when he woke, we fed him, then diapered him then he would "play" a little on his own, then we would play with him and diaper him again and put him down for another nap. I think that is another key, having some loose structure so baby has an idea of what to expect. Now we never got all crazy and lived by the clock or anything, but there was some general order to life. Routines are comfortable-- I would think even more so for our little guys who have so little control over their world-- I would think it would be a comfort to kind of know what's going to happen next.

Another thing I would keep in mind is to make sure you are rewarding baby for doing the things you want him to do-- pay attention to him when he is happily playing, and tell him how much you like it when he uses his "inside" voice. I know they don't understand the words-- but they get the general intonation that you are happy with what they are doing. If baby has to fuss before you pay attention to him-- then he will learn that fussing gets him what he wants and will do it more often.

Now that DS is older-- we also try to make it safe for him to explore-- we did all the baby-proofing things-- so we aren't constantly having to tell him "no" and he isn't always frustrated by not being able to do things. We try to keep toys that engage him and interest him and we make sure to spend time WITH him: if he's fussing, it usually means he's overtired or hungry or he's spent too much time in his exersaucer or carseat.

Insofar as actual DISCIPLINE at this age-- well, we do have to tell DS "no" sometimes (when he gets too close to the fireplace or stands up in the tub, for instance). He doesn't really understand-- we say the word and then re-orient him towards something else and so far that seems to be working. If that starts not to work-- we will try to incorporate some consequences (like bath-time is over the second time he stands up). I understand that seems to work pretty well for most of the other moms I've talked to.

Good luck to you!! Hope this helps!!


    Bookmark   January 19, 2002 at 7:22AM
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Let me preface my comments by stating that I have 3 children, ages 8, 5, 2 (and one on the way). So I am not new to this, but it's all still fresh enough in my memory that I remember it realistically. That's just so you know where I am coming from. And I ask your patience now for what I expect will be a long answer.

The answer to your question is yes and no. If you think of discipline in terms of teaching and guiding, yes, you can begin to discipline a 9 mos old in terms of protecting them from danger. If they pull hair, you can distract them and say "no." You can say "no" and remove them from a situation like pulling an electic cord. But they aren't likely to learn any lesson from it. I know people say their babies understand "no" but I do not buy that. A baby might respond temporarily to the tone of the voice, but at that age, I don't believe, from my experience, they understand "no" in any disciplinary terms. In other words, you could substitute any word used in exactly the same tone and context and get the same reaction from the baby. At that age it is about protecting them. Even if you do get a response to no in a physically harmful situation, you still aren't going to get one over manners, i.e. crying and screaming in temper. If you think of discipline in terms of more concrete action=consequence the answer is no. If you think of discipline in terms of knowing what behavior is expected, the answer is no. That is the beginning of self-discipline and that is a couple years off.

There are a million reasons why this baby would behave that way. First off, she is a baby. She has no understanding of socially acceptable behavior and won't for a long time. She could be coming down with something, maybe she's teething, or tired. Maybe her nap/sleep schedule is in a period of change making her more tired and cranky that usual. It is also common for babies that age to begin to feel frustration over their lack of mobility or autonomy. She knows what she wants to do, but she is not yet physically capable of doing it. That makes her frustrated and the only means she has to express it is to cry and scream. Some babies express that frustration more intensely than others, kind of like adults.

Sometimes there just isn't anything you can do about it short of making life go their way all the time (and we all know how well that would go). We will all have days like that, some of us will have weeks like that. And it has nothing to do with our parenting skills. It's real life.

What you do about it has more to do with you than with the baby. If a parent responds to a baby's cries of frustration with a raised, loud voice and frustration of their own, the baby's will only intensify. As a parent, you just have to stay calm. Rule out any cause you can resolve, fix it if you can, and ride it out if you can't. If baby cries because he doesn't really want to be in his car seat right now he'd much rather crawl on the floor, there just isn't anything you can do about it. You gotta do what you gotta do. You can't reason with him. You cannot impose a consequence for the crying. You really only can carry on with what you gotta do, try to offer a distraction, but if that doesn't work, ride it out. They are not old enough for the type of discipline that makes them understand you can't always have your way. They are still of the mentality "I am the center of the universe and as my mother it is your job to make me happy." The scream says "Why aren't you doing your job!"

So when that age hits, try to see life through your baby's eyes, try to understand what their cry says to you, it helps keep your expectations within reason. If you can see the baby's view of life, it helps you determine if the fit is over a need or a want, thus the best way to resolve it. And remember that when you have days like that, you are not alone, we all have them, it doesn't make you a bad mother. Not to scare you, but the temper of a 9 mos old doesn't begin to compare to the temper of a 2 yr old. And most professionals do in fact say that the best way to deal with that is to ignore it. On the up side, you will have far more good days than bad. And when it is your child, you move into those temper cries gradually and 1)get used to them and learn to block them out and 2)have time to work into dealing with it slowly and not BAM there it is.

When you find yourself having to deal with it, you watch your baby's needs. If you know your baby gets cranky being out of routine, try to avoid that. If you know strange places make him cranky, invite people to your house instead. You can try to make some compromised in your daily life to avoid things that will aggrevate the crankies. But life happens, you can't avoid it all the time and probably really shouldn't.

I feel from the way you posted you are seeking information for your own use, not judging your friend. But I still want to say don't judge her parenting by this bad day, or even a rough few weeks. Instead, and I'm sure you're already doing this, be supportive and understanding of this normal phase. I hope from all that rambling you got something helpful. :o)

    Bookmark   January 19, 2002 at 1:12PM
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A baby who screams in an out of control way needs professional help. Discipline, or parenting skills are not likely to help because 'normally' of course 9 month olds are not quite that tempermental, or acting in a way that could really be described as 'out of control.' Babies do not normally do that, or require extensive 'discipline' of any kind at 9 months of age.

Standard physicals, neurological exams, maybe video tape some episodes so that a physician can _see_ what happens as it occurs. Basically, there are problems which can cause initial 'vague' symptoms including extreme irritability and 'out of control' behaviour in infants. Those should be addressed, because it's not just a normal fact of 9 month old behavior that they have actual episodes of 'out of control' behavior. (Even 9 month old 'tantrums' if they have them, are nothing compared to 2-4 year old tantrums.)

'discipline' usually, for 9 month olds is the adult being utterly predictable and consistent in routines; adult stability is essential, and sometimes infants have actual problems which require diagnosis and management and which can cause them to have 'out of control' behavior

    Bookmark   January 19, 2002 at 4:45PM
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I want to say thank you for all the posts. I really want to say that I want opinions for my own knowledge, and that I am not judging my friend. We are both first time parents and I know I am going to make my own fair share of mistakes.

One thing I should mention is that the tantrum and screaming got so bad that my friend took her baby out of the car seat. While we were driving. So this does become a safety issue.

My opinion on discipline is that it is teaching. And if you can teach a child to sleep through the night or don't touch the stove or whatever, I don't see why you can't teach them to not scream. I must say that distraction did nothing when the baby was throwing these fits. There was nothing we could do.

I guess I am just paranoid about doing things right. I have pms (perfect mom syndrome) and I guess I will get over that soon! LOL. I figure that knowledge is my best defense though. I can't wait till my baby is 2!

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2002 at 6:48PM
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I'm sure others would agree with me on the whole car seat issue-I am really bothered by the fact that your friend took her out of the seat while the car was moving. Could you have pulled the car over and taken a few minutes break? Thank goodness nothing happened to anyone! Everyone has their different opinions on the subject of discipline. One example that I can think of, is I have seen moms holding their babies, while the babies are hitting them in the face. The moms are usually smiling at them, and allowing the hitting to continue. If it were me, I would use a simple firm "No", then put the baby down-in a safe place of course i.e. crib, playpen, blanket on the floor or whatever. Then in a few seconds, go back to interacting with the baby once again. You are not yelling at the baby, just using the word no, and removing them from the situation. Then going back to life as usual. As for the screaming, I'm not sure quite what to say. I would ask the obvious: Has her baby been well fed, changed, and all? I would maybe check with a doctor, to make sure there is nothing physically wrong. Other than that, keep checking in here, as lots of great advise can be found. Best of luck.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2002 at 7:53PM
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It's not generally even a good idea to teach a baby not to scream. They don't have language, so they communicate by making their different noises and using different tones and things.

Normally, to 'teach' as best as possible not to scream unnecessarily, always make sure people around the baby are speaking in soft or at least civil conversational volumes.

Screaming or screetching a lot and loudly is a way babies can stimulate themselves. Sometimes they can 'surprise' themselves by using a loud volume. More importantly though, there are reasons babies scream when in particular positions or other circumstances which have to do with physical reasons which need diagnosis. It can be difficult to weigh in terms of 'danger' whether a baby screaming incessantly, and their mother feeling unable to do anything having to drive is more or less a danger than holding the infant (removing them from the carseat).

As an aside, consistency is utterly important 'normally.' Intermittent reinforcement serves only to increase problems because although the adult will be thinking they just need to stop their own pain and so will 'give in' or whatever; the child learns that they need to carry on for 'this long' in order to eventually get what they want. But, and this is vital, before the age of one year be cautious. The first year is difficult because a baby is getting used to life on earth. The new mother may have post partum health issues from depression, to different thyroid problems (depression can result from these too) which can color her perceptions. There are lots of community resources usually to help parents and babies when there are problems. A 9 month old baby who screams a lot, has a problem and their parents should be able to access support and help.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2002 at 2:32PM
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The behavior, as you've described, doesn't sound like typical 9mo behavior. Has that baby been evaluated recently? It sounds more like pain than "misbehavior".

I agree that you can't really discipline a child at that age. In fact, I'd argue that discipline for kids who are pre-verbal especially, and not yet reasoning also, is about disciplining parents. We have to learn not to create situations where our children will react like that. Forcing a 9mo to go too long without eating, sleeping, or some form of positive interaction where they can blow off steam and play WILL create behavior "problems", and your response will either validate or invalidate those behaviors. It's a lot like my neighbors, who have a dog that barks. It's not really the dog that's the problem -- it's the neighbors, because they keep the dog chained in the yard and rarely provide food or water.

I think your position on this is very mature and responsible. However, the car seat thing is a place where, to be a good friend, you probably need to speak up.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2002 at 10:51AM
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and taking him out of the carseat, though it might stop the screaming for the moment, will make it worse in the long run. They do come to expect to be fed when they cry, they can also learn to expect to be taken out of the carseat when they cry. The carseat has to be one of those things that is just never a choice. If you make it a choice for even one trip, you're setting yourself up for lots of battles.

I really did take DD to the doctor once, she was almost a year, even though all I could tell them was "she is just too cranky." Turned out she had a pretty bad ear infection. She had no fever or anything else, she was just TOO cranky to be normal!

Try to let go of the perfect mom syndrome, it's contagious. In a couple years your child could catch Perfect Child Syndrome from you and feel they have to be perfect to please you. I say this from experience, my oldest is a perfectionist and he's only 8 yrs. He can be very self conscious. I blame myself for trying to do everything "right" with him.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2002 at 2:56PM
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wait -- is it mostly IN the carseat? Some carseats are down right uncomfortable, or the straps could be hurting her. Worth checking out.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2002 at 3:19PM
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Thanks once again. But I must clarify that the screaming was really more of a tantrum than anything else. This baby was just mad about not getting her way. She normally spends a lot of time in the car (her mom has a job driving for 3-5 hrs a day), so the baby was very used to being in the car. The baby also screamed when her mom left the room, or when she couldn't get down on the ground and crawl. Another mom I talked to said screaming is a lot about personality and that's it. I guess I really shouldn't worry about it--it doesn't sound like it's normal no matter which way you look at it.
Thanks, Emily

    Bookmark   January 21, 2002 at 7:59PM
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my dd is 9 mo. old and throwing little fits of her own, when i put her down or leave her with daddy or walk down the hall. it is all behavioral issues! She is not sick, her teeth just came in and no more are cutting threw.

i think it is our job as parents to train our children. just like they learn that their screaming will noy get them out of their carseat, my dd needs to know that jer screams will not make me hold her all day.

when she starts to throw a fit i lovingly but firmly tell her "no" and put her in her crib and walk away. i dont get her out until she has stopped crying. of course i make sure that it is not because she is hungry or soiled. the first couple of times she screamed for over an hour... now she is down to abou 15 min and it has only been a week.

My husband and i are out of the house a lot and i need her to behave in public. it was not an option for us to just wait it out.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 3:12PM
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