Think of discipline as a way to guide and teach your child about positive ways to behave. A parenting style that works well is one that uses discipline proactively. The goal is to use techniques that encourage your child's sense of responsibility, nurture
self-esteem, and strengthen your relationship with your child. This may involve setting limits, explaining why a certain behavior is wrong and what can be done instead, discussing values, and using distraction, time-out, and natural and logical consequences.
No one technique of
discipline works for all situations. The wise parent develops a variety of
skills and approaches, such as:
- Ignoring annoying behavior when possible. Ignore behavior that will not harm your child, such as bad
habits, whining, and tantrums. Never ignore potentially dangerous behavior.
While it is hard to do nothing, this lack of attention takes away the very
audience your child is seeking. Recognize, though, that ignoring annoying
behavior works best if you notice and thank your child when he or she behaves well. Behavior that you ignore
tends to decrease, and any behavior that you pay attention to tends to
- Using facial expressions and body language to convey how you feel about your child's behavior. Facial
expressions and body language can let your child know how disappointed you are
in his or her inappropriate behavior. Older children can be told that their
behavior has made you feel upset, sad, or angry.
- Using logical consequences. Let the consequence make the
point. For example, take away privileges that closely match a child's
inappropriate actions. If a child:
- Misuses a toy, take it away for a short
period. (If the loss of privilege lasts too long, the child focuses more on
resentment, losing the point of the lesson.)
- Writes on the wall
with crayons, have the child help you wash it and take away the crayons for a
- Using distraction. Try
distracting a child who is starting to misbehave. This is sometimes called redirecting. For example, if your child
has trouble taking turns with a toy, show him or her another
- Rewarding appropriate behavior. Establish
rules and expectations clearly. Then reward your child when rules are followed.
For example, when the toys are picked up, you and your child can have story
time. When your school-age child comes home from school on time, he or she can
have a friend over.
- Making it easy to succeed. Help your child to meet your expectations by giving him or her helpful tools. For example, rearrange space where items regularly are not
picked up, such as adding baskets and low hooks for easier cleanup.
- Modeling correct behavior. Patiently show
your child the right way to behave or do a chore.
- Using time-out wisely. You can use time-out to respond
to dangerous and harmful behavior such as biting, hitting, and purposeful
destruction. It's best to use time-out only when your child is able to understand its meaning. This is usually around age 3 years. Have the child sit in a place where there are no distractions.
Explain what he or she did wrong and how to behave appropriately next time.
Keep time-out to 1 minute for every year of age, up to a maximum of 5 minutes.
Use a timer. After a time-out, acknowledge when the child behaves
important to continually learn and practice good parenting techniques, using
different discipline strategies as your child grows and develops. All
discipline techniques must be age-appropriate so that the child understands the
difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Babies younger than age 18
months cannot understand these concepts.
Contact your child's doctor if:
- You want more information about how to discipline your child.
- You are having trouble handling your reaction to your child's behavior.
- Your child's behavior is causing a lot of family stress or other problems.
You can get other parenting tips from your child's doctor, a local hospital, and national parenting groups.
- Establishing Limits With Your School-Age Child
- Growth and Development, Ages 12 to 24 Months
- Growth and Development, Ages 2 to 5 Years
- Growth and Development, Ages 6 to 10 Years
- Help for Anger Problems
- Helping Your Child Build Inner Strength
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Behavior. In SP Shelov, RE Hannemann, eds., Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 4th ed., chap. 18, pp. 565–586. New York: Bantam.
Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, American Academy of Pediatrics (1998, reaffirmed 2012). Guidance for effective discipline. Pediatrics, 101(4): 723–728. [Erratum in Pediatrics, 101(2): 433.] Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/2/e467.full.
Newman BM, Newman PR (2012). Early school age (4 to 6 year). In Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach, 11th ed., pp. 238–286. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Stein MT (2011). Difficult behavior. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph’s Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 335–338. New York: McGraw-Hill.