When my daughter was 6 months old, she liked to crawl over to our floor lamp and play with it (which is dangerous). Instead of trying to correct her behavior, we simply moved the lamp behind a child gate.

Now she is 10 months old, and she likes playing with our flashy, blinky internet router. We can't really move it, so we spent a week constantly correcting her when she went to play with it. She seems to have learned not to touch it.

My question is, what age is average for kids to relate cause and effect, and to be able to learn from discipline? Could she have learned not to touch the lamp as a 6 month old?

  • Please be more specific as in what you mean by "discipline" Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 4:56

4 Answers 4


It all depends on your definition of discipline. When my now 4 year old daughter was about 17mo old we would tell her "no,no, you can't climb up the stairs right now" (for example) and she would look at us, smile this devious smile and do it anyway. The doctor said it is clear she understands what she is doing so it is time to start time out. Conventional wisdom says time out starts being effective around 2ish but in her case she responded and began listening when we said no no.
Moving a younger child from a dangerous situation and redirecting his/her behavior can be viewed, for a child of that age range, to be discipline. You are removing something fun. As you discovered the child will learn. I am not sure that is responding to discipline as much as just internalizing a lesson.
Before this question can be answered discipline, as you see it, needs to be defined.


Babies as young as 5 months can recognize prosocial behaviour. By 8 months, they will even sympathize with characters who punish evildoers. From those results, it's safe to say that babies have a sense of morality, at least when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

You might be able to extrapolate that babies around that age can recognize obedience as prosocial behaviour when they see it. Whether they believe that that applies to themselves is a different issue. Also, the rule about touching routers and lamps has to be learned, whereas a rule about not stealing from others is likely to be innate. Finally, at any age, curiosity can always override obedience.

Short answer: at 5 months, the foundations of morality are definitely there. Whether that means that obedience is possible at that age, I don't know. Your own anecdote suggests that it certainly is possible by 10 months. Then again, some teenagers and even adults never learn. =)

  • 1
    +1 for the prosocial behavior link. I know the study you're referencing about sympathizing with punishing evildoers, but a link would be great.
    – justkt
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 13:07
  • @justkt Sympathizing and punishing is in the linked abstract. Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 15:05

Cause and effect comes only much later, and it is difficult to talk about average since there are so big individual differences. But a 1-1,5 years old kid can surely learn (after many repetitions) that something is not allowed. No need to explain her any details, just firmly say "No" and remove her from the forbidden place. You need to be alert, but eventually she will give up :-)

Most probably younger babies can learn too, but at that age it is usually not an issue as they can't yet move that much :-) I don't have the time now, but it may be worth to google for Piaget who may have some more concrete study results regarding this.


First of all, make sure you have "TRAINED" the child to not do something, as mentioned above that can mean for very yound simply saying "no" and making it clear your expectation. Second, be CONSISTENT, if you only occasionally correct then your correction at any age will be ineffective. Third, DISCIPLINE is appropriate only after you have trained the child and are committed to being consistent (both parents). Finally, affirm the child when they behave correctly and make it fun to obey. Whatever you do, do not respond in anger but in love.

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