Discipline: When Premature Babies Grow Up

That is something we can all be happy about. But it also means that parents, who might have been afraid of losing their children early, may eventually come face-to-face with toddlers who need discipline just as much as children who were born full-term. Surviving premature babies do grow up.

Though this can be an unpleasant topic to talk about, it is one that needs to be addressed. There is a temptation among parents of premature babies to assume their children are just as fragile in the toddler years as they were at birth. In some cases, this is true. Most of the time though, toddlers are exceptionally robust unless they suffer from specific medical conditions that still render them fragile. Unless parents have a toddler with ongoing medical issues, a history of premature birth should not prevent proper discipline.

Below are a number of basic discipline principles every parent can implement, regardless of whether a child was born prematurely or full-term. The tips come from Cynthia Hanson of Parents magazine.

Do Not Try to Solve Every Problem

Parenting is a long-term exercise that begins at birth and continues well into adulthood. Therefore, it is important for parents to remember that they cannot solve every discipline problem overnight. As Hansen explains it, parents need to pick their battles. They need to decide what their priorities are in the short term, then focus on those priorities.

This is essentially an incremental approach to discipline. You work on one or two problems first, then move on to something else when these have been successfully conquered. In this way, neither parents nor their children feel overwhelmed.

Learn Triggers of Misbehaviour

Would you believe that some unacceptable behaviours can be avoided through proactive parenting? Parents who learn to identify certain triggers can prevent misbehaviour and the necessity for discipline that follows it. For example, if you know your child begins to get irritable if he doesn’t get to bed on time in the evening, make a point of not staying out past his bedtime. Get him home and into bed on time.

Practice Consistent Discipline

This may be a most important discipline tip on our list. All children, whether born as premature babies or full-term, thrive on consistency. Inconsistent discipline leaves a child not knowing what is expected of him/her. That only causes confusion that tends to exacerbate misbehaviour. On the other hand, consistency creates a definite boundary of expectation that a child will eventually learn not to cross.

Maintain Emotional Control

Lastly, getting emotional during a time of discipline only exacerbates the behaviour you are trying to correct. So rather than shouting and screaming until your voice is hoarse, it’s best to make a concerted effort to control your emotions. Remain calm and firm so as to model to your child that it can be done. If you need to let your bottled-up emotions out, leave the room and go do it elsewhere after you finish with your child.

We understand that some parents of premature babies never have the opportunity of experiencing the toddler years with their children. Still others do manage to have toddlers, but those children continue to be limited by disabilities. But those whose children overcome premature birth to live normal, healthy lives will eventually have toddlers on their hands. They will have to embrace discipline just as if their children were born full-term.