How to Discipline a Child

Two Parts:Being a Good DisciplinarianUsing a Variety of Discipline Methods

Disciplining a child is never easy. It's easier to give your child lots of love and affection, because after all, you love your child. But if you want your child to know right from wrong and to grow up with self-control and good manners, you'll have to learn how to discipline the child the right way, no matter how hard it is. If you want to know how to discipline your child while maintaining a strong bond with your child and staying calm, just follow these tips.

Part 1
Being a Good Disciplinarian

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    Be consistent. If you want your children to be well-disciplined, then you have to be consistent about your rules and expectations as a parent. If your children know that you're liable to overlook their bad behavior if you're tired, distracted, or because you sometimes just feel sorry for them, then they won't know how to properly act every time. Though it may be hard to be consistent about your expectations, especially after a long day, this is the only way to ensure that you are taken seriously and that your child will understand your guidelines.
    • Once you've worked out a system of discipline, keep it consistent. For example, if every time your child breaks a toy, then he/she has to earn a new one by helping out around the house, don't give in one time when she breaks a toy just because you really feel sorry for her on that particular day.
    • Be consistent even if you're in public. Though this is easier said than done, if you normally don't let your child go to McDonald's more than once a week, don't let the child go just because he/she's throwing a public tantrum. Though it may be embarrassing to suffer through a public tantrum, it's better than teaching your child that he/she can always get what he/she wants if he just waits to throw a tantrum in public.[1]
    • If you and your spouse and partner are raising the child together, then you must present a united front to your children and should be consistent about your system of punishment. Don't have a bad cop and a good cop parent, or the child may favor one parent over the other, and this may cause a problem in your relationship with your significant other as well as with your child.
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    Be respectful of your child. Remember that your child is still a human being, no matter how young your child is, or how frustrated you may be. If you want your child to respect your authority, then you have to respect the fact that your child is an imperfect human being with his/her own wants and needs, and that he/she still needs love and respect from his/her parent or parents. Here's what to do:
    • If you're really angry for your child for his/her bad behavior, then take some time to cool off before you say anything. If you walk into a room and find that your child has spilled a glass of soda on your new white rug, don't start disciplining the child immediately or you may shout or say something you regret.
    • Don't call your child bad names, or that will only lower his self-worth and will make him feel worse. Instead of saying, "You are so stupid," say, "That wasn't very smart behavior, was it?"
    • Try to avoid any situations where you act inappropriately and have to apologize for your behavior later. If you do, apologise to the child and tell him/her that you shouldn't have done it. If you apologise for your actions they will too.
    • Be a good role model. Behave the way you want your child to behave, or you will be sending mixed signals with your own bad behavior.
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    Be empathetic. Being empathetic is different from being sympathetic. Being empathetic means being able to appreciate your child's struggles, problems, and feelings, and considering why your child might be acting out. Being sympathetic means feeling sorry for your child when your child is upset during bad behavior, and wanting to rescue your child from his problem. Here's how to be empathetic:
    • Talk to your child about how she might be feeling. If he/she broke his/her favorite doll after aggressive behavior, sit down and tell him/her that you understand that he/she must be upset because he/she broke is/her favorite toy. Show that while this behavior was inappropriate, you still understand that he/she is upset.
    • Try to understand the reasons for your child's bad behavior. Maybe your child is playing with her food at a family function because he/she's bored out of her mind because there's no one his/her age to talk to; maybe he/she's throwing a tantrum about not getting the toy he/she wants because he/she's upset that his/her father is away on a business trip.
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    Communicate your expectations. It's important to let your child know exactly what you consider good and bad behavior, and what the consequences will be for that bad behavior. Once the child is old enough to understand your needs, you should make it clear that if he/she does one thing, that there will always be the same consequence. Here's how to communicate your expectations:
    • If you're trying a new discipline technique, explain it to your child before the bad behavior happens, or the child will be confused.
    • Take the time to talk to your child about his good and bad behavior. If the child is old enough, make him/her feel included in understanding what went well and what did not go well for him/her, and how you expect him/her to act.
    • If the child is old enough, the child can choose the rewards for good behavior, if they are appropriate.
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    Be authoritative, not authoritarian. An authoritative parent has clear expectations and consequences but is still loving and affectionate toward his or her child. This parent leaves room for flexibility and discusses problems and their solutions with a child. This is the ideal parenting style, though it is challenging to pull off all the time. The authoritarian parent also has clear expectations and consequences, but he doesn't give much affection to the child or explain the reasoning behind the behavior. This can lead the child to feel unloved and to not understand the importance of certain rules.[2]
    • You should also avoid being a permissive parent. This is the kind of parent who lets the child do whatever he/she wants because he/she loves the child too much to say no, feels sorry for the child, or just thinks the child will develop and internal system of discipline later.
    • Though it may be easy to be a permissive parent, this can have negative effects on a child, especially when that child reaches adulthood or adolescence. If the child is a teenager, or even an adult, who thinks that he'll always be able to get what he/she wants, then he/she will be hit with a rough reality check.
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    Consider the age and temperament of your child. No two children are the same, and it's important to consider who your child really is when you dole out a certain punishment. As your child gets older, you should also update your discipline system to fit a more mature child; on the other hand, you should avoid giving young children the same discipline you would give to an older, more capable child. Here's what to do:[3][4]
    • If your child is naturally talkative and loves to be social, find a way to work with that behavior. Though you can discipline your child for talking out of line, you shouldn't try to turn your child into a shy, quiet child if that's not who he/she is.
    • If your child is exceptionally sensitive, you shouldn't indulge this behavior too much, but recognize that he'll need extra affection from time to time.
    • If your child is 0-2, you can remove tempting bad behaviors from the home, and firmly say no when the child misbehaves. For toddlers, time out can be an effective way to communicate that they've acted out of line.
    • If your child is 3-5 years old, then he/she is old enough to be told which bad behaviors to avoid before they happen. You can tell the child what the right thing to do is instead. For example, you can say, "You shouldn't boss the other children on the playground around. Instead, you should be kind and understanding with them, and you'll have more fun."
    • Children from the ages of 6-8 can understand the negative consequences of their behavior. They'll see that if they spill on the carpet, they'll have to help clean it up.
    • Children from the ages of 9-12 can learn from the natural consequences of their behavior. For example, if your child didn't finish his/her book report the day before it was due, she'll have to deal with the bad grade.

Part 2
Using a Variety of Discipline Methods

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    Teach your child natural consequences. Having your child understand the natural consequences of his/her bad behavior is a great way for him/her to flex his/her disappointment muscles, and to see that his bad behavior can make him/her feel sad and regret. Instead of bailing out the child in certain situations, let the child deal with his negative actions on his/her own. The child should be at least six years old to understand natural consequences.[5]
    • If the child broke a toy or ruined a toy by leaving it out in the sun, don't run out and get the child a new toy. Let the child deal with not having the toy for a while, and the child will learn to take better care of his/her things.
    • Teach the child responsibility. If the child didn't finish his/her homework assignment because he/she was too busy watching television, let the child learn from the disappointment of the bad grade instead of rushing to help him with his/her homework.
    • If the child wasn't invited to a birthday party of another child in the neighborhood because of his/her misbehavior, let that child see that he/she would have been invited if he/she had treated the child differently.
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    Teach your child logical consequences. Logical consequences are the consequences you decide will follow the child's bad behavior. They should be directly related to the behavior so the child learns not to do them again. Each type of bad behavior should have its own logical consequences, and the consequences should be clear well ahead of time. Here are some examples:
    • If the child doesn't pick up his/her toys, he/she won't be able to use them for a week.
    • If you catch the child watching something inappropriate on TV, then TV privileges will be revoked for a week.
    • If the child isn't respectful to his/her parents, then he/she won't be allowed to play with his/her friends until he/she understands respectful behavior.
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    Teach your child positive discipline methods. Positive discipline is a way of working with the child to reach a positive conclusion that can help the child understand his/her bad behavior and avoid future bad behavior. To positively discipline the child, you should sit down with the child and discuss the bad behavior and what can be done next.
    • If your child lost his baseball bat because he was irresponsible, sit down and talk to him about why it happened. Next, ask him what he could do without the bat, and how he expects to play without it. Maybe he can play with a friend's bat until he earns another bat. Let the child realize the consequences of his bad behavior and to work with you to come up with a solution.
    • In the positive discipline method, time out is considered a place that makes the child feel ashamed and angry, but not quite cognizant of his/her bad behavior or determined to change it. In this method, the child isn't sent to time out, but to a cooling down place, which is filled with pillows or the child's favorite toys, until he/she is ready to discuss the behavior. This teaches children and important life skill: to learn to reign in their emotions and to take some time to reflect instead of acting irrationally.
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    Have a reward system in place for your child. A system of rewards should also be in place, so there are positive consequences for the child's positive behavior. Don't forget that reinforcing good behavior is just as important as disciplining bad behavior. Showing the child how to act appropriately will help the child see what he should not do.
    • A reward can be a simple treat for doing something right. If your child knows he'll be able to have ice cream after he finishes his healthy meal, he'll be more likely to cooperate.
    • You and the child can decide on the rewards together, when it's appropriate. If the child wants a new toy, and you can talk about how the child has to be kind and respectful to his parents for a full month to get it.
    • Don't use rewards to trick the child into good behavior. The child should understand that the behavior is good, and not just be nice to get a toy.
    • Praise your child as often as you can for good behavior. Your child shouldn't only hear you comment on his behavior if it's bad.
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    Avoid lectures or threats. Not only are these methods ineffective, but they can make your child resent or ignore you, and to be mentally and physically hurt by your words and actions. Here is why these methods are not recommended:
    • Children tend to tune out lectures if there's no meaning behind them. If you're lecturing the child about how he/she shouldn't have lost his/her toy while getting him a new one, he/she'll understand that your words aren't important.
    • If you threaten your child with things that won't happen, like saying that your child will never get to watch TV again if he doesn't clean his/her room, then the child will see that you don't really mean what you say.
    • Spanking before the age of ten is a good idea, as it guides your child in the right direction and gives him/her something to remember as being a well-disciplined child. It may be hard to at first, but after a while you should realize you have to do it less and less as the child grows more mature and responsible. After the age of ten, though, it is a good idea to start grounding/taking things away from him/her for periods of time. This will show him/her that he/she has gotten older and doesn't need physical reinforcement to know what to do.
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    Give yourself a break. Though it's important to be a role model and to find a number of discipline methods that work for your child, remember that no one is perfect and that you can't be a model parent all the time. No matter how hard you try, there will still be some times when you wish you had acted differently, and that's okay.
    • If you've done something you regret, apologize to the child and let him understand where you're coming from.
    • If you're having a tough emotional week, lean on your partner if you have one, and have him or her do more work on the discipline front until you feel a bit better.


  • If you have other children, never compare them to their brothers or sisters. That could lead them into low self-esteem or make them feel like they have no worth.
  • Stay calm!
  • To encourage older children to change behavior, write the problem down, discuss it, and guide the child in developing his or her own correction plan. Make it measurable, and include a punishment for failure and a reward for success.
  • Everyone needs multiple chances to learn and everyone needs a fresh start, especially children. Don't escalate for things repeated a week apart by a young child -- just for those repeated in the same day. Young children don't have the same way of remembering things as older children and adults.
  • For young children, one minute of time-out per year of age is a good standard. Longer than that and they feel abandoned, lonely, and may lose trust in you.
  • If you are not consistent with your discipline, or ignore your child's bad behavior because you think he/she is too young to know any better, you will have a much harder time trying reducing bad behavior later on.
  • Don't spoil your child on treats for good behaviour. An occasional treat may be necessary, but too many treats or rewards. This may lead to your child doing the same thing when he/she has their own children.
  • Stick to your defined strategy, no matter how mad you are at a given moment. When you are angry, it may be impossible to think clearly, and it can take up to an hour for your hormones to return to normal. That's why you should decide these things when you're calm.
  • No matter how intelligent your child is, remember that you are dealing with a child. Don't get into psychoanalysis; don't invite a child into an adult-level review of the problem. Tell the child the rules and consequences for breaking them, and apply it consistently. This will make the world seem to be a fair, safe, and predictable place.
  • Do not bribe for good behavior. The bribes will become required. Occasionally rewarding for good behavior after the fact is not a bribe.


  • Know when to get disciplinary help for your child. If your child is constantly disrespectful and won't listen to anything you say, or especially if he/she demonstrates aggressive or violent behavior frequently, see a professional to see what you can do to manage this behavior.
  • Do not punish your child by causing him or her serious physical harm. Though light spanking is not recommended either, there is a difference between that and outright hitting and truly causing your child deep pain.
  • Children may have unique or special needs, so avoid yelling at them at all costs. This may make them feel bad and afraid.

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Categories: Behavioral Issues