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Behavior, Parenting and Discipline > Discipline


Discipline.pngThe basics of discipline are similar regardless of the expert you talk with: Consistency among all events and caregivers, PRAISE the POSITIVE, maintain control of the situation and your anger, punishment should reflect the offense and not be too severe, led by example, maintain routines for sleep/feeding, and offer choices to the child.


Parents need to speak with each other and with other caregivers regarding the types of redirection, warnings, punishment, and limits. If there is discrepancy (i.e. at my house they cannot stay up late playing video games, but at Grandma's they can), children play favorites and try to make a caregiver feel in the wrong (but at Grandma's I can...). Remind all caregivers to reward good behavior with positive words. Try to give more praise words than negative words. Children thrive on attention and they want to please adults. If they know you like a behavior, they are more likely to continue it. If you ignore the good behavior and only criticize bad behaviors, they may continue the bad behavior simply because you are noticing it (and them).


Many parents worry that their child is out of control. I disagree. Kids always want control. Parents simply (ha ha) have to remain in control of the important things and give kids the control they can own. This enables the parent to be in charge of the important things but allows the child to make decisions about things that won't affect his health or safety, which helps him develop a sense of well being, confidence and decision making capabilities. This means when a parent wants to change a behavior of a child, do NOT show anger. Raising your voice shows the child that you are losing control and a child feeds on that to elevate the situation to a battle. Trying to repeat the SAME phrase of what you want the child to do (not what you DON'T want ... give the child clear directions of what you DO want). If the child argues or ignores, simply repeat the SAME instructions of what you want them to do. If it doesn't happen, the child will get a consequence.


Consequences depend on age. Toddlers may have to sit on a step, towel or special chair for "time out". Older children may lose a privilege or have extra chores. Discuss the rules with them before you begin this plan, at a family gathering when everyone is in a good mood, not in trouble. If the behavior desired does not happen, you first say they lost a privilege.

If the behavior still does not happen, increase the loss (i.e. television gone for 1 I've asked again, television is gone for 2 days, etc.). Decide in advance (and tell the child) after a certain number of losses (i.e. after 5 days of no television) there will be a major consequence. Decide in advance what these will be. Remember when choosing consequences not to take away things that in general HELP behavior (such as outdoor play, which overall releases energy so the child will act better indoors). The consequences, of course, have to mean something to the child or else he won't care if they are taken away (I've never heard a parent say, "No broccoli for dinner if you don't clean your room!).

Phrasing Consequences

The way we tend to phrase consequences is just like that though, "no *special treat* if you don't *do desired behavior*". This sounds like a threat and many children (and adults) take it as such. Rephrasing the sentence to a more positive expression usually gets better results: "We will have *special treat* if you *do desired behavior*". This would sound like, "We will go to the park if you clean your room," instead of "we won't go to the park unless you clean your room." The second sentence sounds like a challenge to the child. Hmmm... how can I get to the park without cleaning my room? Throw a fit? Run out the door? Throw around all my toys?

Losing Your Temper

What if you lose your temper and you see the situation is elevating? You are yelling, the child is screaming, nothing good is coming from the situation. How do you get back in control? Time outs work well. They do give the child a consequence (if young enough...older children do not get much of a consequence from being alone). The most important part of time out in this situation is not being a consequence, it is the calming effect of time. Parents may need the time out as much as the child. This gives you a chance to collect your thoughts and come up with a game plan of what to say and do. Practice what you will say before you get the child so it is easier. Another way to turn this out of control situation around is humor. Many parents think that when a child is in trouble, you shouldn't be "fun", but it can really help.

For instance, one night my daughter was throwing a fit about getting dressed. I started yelling, but then realized it was (of course) feeding her anger. She was a 5 year old unable to tell me what was wrong, she was so upset. I picked up one of her dolls, made the doll "cry", and started talking to the doll to try to see what was wrong. I said my thoughts out loud..."baby is too little to use words, maybe she is hurt"...moved all the arms and I had my daughter's attention..."no, no hurt spots"...."maybe she has a dirty diaper"... smelled the bottom..."pee yew, dirty diaper"... by now my daughter was laughing..."I guess babies are too little to use words, that's why she had to cry, I'm so glad you're a big girl and can tell me what's wrong". Once she was calmed down, things got much easier. The trick is thinking of something that helps the situation when you are frustrated. The best plan is coming up with ideas for your most common arguments before the next argument starts.


Always lead by example. Children learn what they see, not what they are told. If you say, "eat your veggies" but never eat your own, they won't like their veggies. If you make them wear a helmet, but don't wear yours, they will argue about wearing theirs. Using good word choices will teach them how to choose good words. If a child bites, don't bite back. If a child hits, don't hit back. If you hit as a form of punishment, your child will learn to hit to get her way.


Keeping a routine helps children know what to expect next. Be sure enough sleep is available because tired children (and adults) are testy. Same with hungry and sick children. If you think that a child's bad behavior stems from being tired or hungry, offer a nap or food.

If your child has major behavior problems, choose the few behaviors that bother you most and work on those. You cannot expect a child to suddenly be perfect. Reward the small steps toward good behavior. When a child sees you noticing the good behavior, they often want to please more and give more good behaviors.

Let them Choose

Children also like to be in control, so if you offer them choices (with either choice something that is ok with you), they feel in control and are more likely to do what you want. A choice may be "do you want to get dressed or brush teeth first?" The child then chooses one of the choices, so she is happy that she chose to brush teeth. She doesn't realize that you have manipulated her. If she says "watch TV", you say, "that wasn't a choice, the choices were getting dressed or brushing teeth first." Give about 10 seconds for her to make a choice. If she doesn't decide, then you decide for her. The method of choices is great for giving kids the opportunity to learn from their mistakes with bigger consequences as they get older.

For instance, "are you going to eat your lunch or put your plate in the sink?" Of course, the kid will say, "I want PB&J, not a ham sandwich." You can then say, "We are eating ham today. Would you like to eat your ham sandwich or put your plate in the sink?" If the child chooses to eat lunch, great, he is well fed. If he chooses to not eat, do not allow snacking. He will complain of hunger, but it was his choice. Don't nag about that, just say, "I know how you feel. I get hungry too when I don't eat, but don't worry. We can have a big dinner." He may be upset about being hungry, but if you don't discuss all the reasons and let him think about it, most children are smart enough to figure out why they are hungry. They can learn from it. If you try to rescue them and give a snack, they don't learn. If you try to make sure they know what they did wrong and what they should have done, "I knew you'd be hungry if you didn't eat. Now you say you're hungry. Of course you're hungry, you didn't eat! I offered food. I took the time to make your sandwich, you just complained that you didn't want it..." they get angry and don't learn. Let the child do the thinking!


Be sure your child gets enough sleep. Many behavior problems can be linked to a tired child! Learn more about normal sleep patterns and needs.

Helpful sites

From Dr Stuppy's blog:
Time Out Rules 
Toddler Talk
Parenting When You're Angry

Outside sites:
1-2-3 Magic
Healthy Children
Love and Logic 
Same Page Parenting (on HeySigmund, a great website) 
AnxiousToddlers (name is misleading, they have advice for all ages)

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