With declining availability of extended family to support and advise young parents and with the growing numbers of single-parent families, the pediatrician is increasingly consulted about the behavioral management of children and especially about appropriate discipline. Discipline means "to impart knowledge and skill to" rather than corporal punishment.

The emotionally mature adult is a disciplined person, able to postpone pleasure appropriately, tolerate discomfort when necessary, and be assertive without being hostile. Such abilities are learned over time and the process begins in earliest childhood.

As the human newborn matures physiologically and neurologically and as his care givers gradually impose limits in relation to feeding, toileting, or sleeping, the child's biologic rhythms become more regular and adapt to family routines. Signals of discomfort, such as crying and aimless thrashing of limbs, are modified and abandoned as the infant acquires memories of past relief of distress provided by the environment (parents).

As the infant becomes more mobile, he or she will initiate contacts with the environment; some of the potentially dangerous contacts include electric cords and plugs, peanuts, or valuable bric-abrac. Actions must be taken to protect the infant or toddler: the use of safety plugs or removal of the danger, signals of "No," or physical removal of the child to a "safer" area. Some persistent, active children pose a real discipline challenge to their parents; other children are quite adaptable and "easy." And just as children vary in their behaviors, some parents find it difficult to say "No"; some parents are neglectful; and still others are overly restrictive, controlling, and harsh.

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