Discipline comes from the word "disciple," which means to teach. You need
to teach your child the proper way of behaving.
Help your child practice good behavior. Show him what to do and how to act.
Be an example.
Certain behaviors are never okay for a child of any age. Your child does
not have a choice when his health, safety, or future could be hurt. For example:
A child who is sick must take his medicine.
A child cannot play in the street. A teen cannot ride in the car with
people who have been drinking.
A child needs to go to school. School prepares him to work and earn
Other issues are negotiable (you and your child can decide what is okay and
not okay) such as dyeing his hair purple or not making the bed.
What should I expect?
Adolescence is a special time. Adolescents
should be treated differently than young children.
Children behave differently depending on their age and personality. Be fair
about what you expect of them.
Tell your children what you expect. Make instructions clear and firm. Show
them how to do what you ask.
Do not ask your child to do something unless he is allowed to say no. Instead
of asking, "Are you ready for bed?" say, "It's time to get ready for bed."
Give your child warnings about what should happen next. "In 5 minutes, it's
time to pick up the toys." "In 10 minutes, its time to start your homework."
Make a short list of rules. Help your child understand the rules and what
happens if he breaks them. As children get older, they can help make the rules
and help decide what will happen if rules are broken.
Build independence. Use routines so your child can do things on his own.
Make a daily schedule. Include school, play, homework, TV, meals, baths,
How do I prevent problems?
Take steps to prevent misbehavior. Set up your child to behave well.
Avoid situations that make your child cranky, tired, bored, or overly active.
Think ahead. For example, keep paint out of your toddler's reach. Tell your
school-age child you want a phone call when he walks to a friend's house and
What can I do when behavior is bad?
When behavior is bad, respond by teaching your child how to be good. Show
him the right way to do something so the next time, he will know how to act.
Using physical punishment, such as spanking or hitting, is the least effective
response. Hitting may stop behavior but it doesn't teach the right behavior.
Use other ways to discipline your child as often as you can:
Natural consequences work well. What happens after a rule is broken
should make sense.
Use the least extreme response that will be effective.
Instead of spanking a child who doesn't pick up his toys, take them
away for a time or have him pick them up.
A toddler may refuse to put his coat on during a cold winter morning.
Take the coat with you as you leave. When the toddler gets cold, he will
want his coat. Let him wear it.
Ignore bad behavior
Children like to have their parents' attention. Even negative attention
can be rewarding.
Try ignoring bad behavior instead of responding to it.
Your child might act up more when first ignored. Wait. He will probably
Give your immediate attention and praise to a child who is behaving
well. Sit down and talk to the child seated quietly at the dinner table
while ignoring the child who runs around the room. Give the other child
attention when he chooses to join you.
It is easiest to ignore behavior when you can wait for it to stop. Dangerous
behavior shouldn't be ignored.
If the behavior needs to stop at once, consider using time-out.
Tell your child ahead of time what behaviors will put him in time-out.
Time-out works well after tantrums or aggressive and dangerous behavior.
Warn the child that he will go to time-out if he doesn't behave. Do
not get angry. If one warning doesn't make him stop, put him in time-out.
Choose a place that is boring but not scary for your child to sit. Have
him sit in a chair or face a corner. Away from home, use a car, restroom,
or have him face a wall. Always stay close enough to see or hear him but
don't talk to him.
You may set a timer to help the child keep track of his time. Time-out
should be short (about one minute for each year of age).
If the child leaves, take him gently back to the time-out area. You
may want to start the time over.
When time is up, don't talk about the bad behavior. Either show him
what you would like him to do instead or reward him the next time he shows
What can I do when behavior is good?
Reward your child for good behavior with affection, praise, and attention.
Rewards do not have to be bought.
Rewards can be small, such as a hug, an extra story at bedtime, staying
up 30 minutes later, a special snack, or time alone with Mom or Dad when a
sibling isn't around.
Consider letting the child choose the reward.
Do not promise a child a reward you can't give.
Tell your child exactly what they did well. Say, "Thank you for remembering
to set the table," instead of, "Good job."
How can I improve my child's behavior?
Ask your child a question, such as, "What should you be doing now?" He will
probably correct himself. If he can't answer, help him understand what you
Make a game out of a task or chore. If your child is slow getting ready
for bed, set a timer. Challenge him to make it under the covers before time
Teach self-control. Give choices within a task or rule. For example, a child
can choose what book to read before bed. A teen can decide how she wants to
use 30 minutes of phone time.
Don't try to correct everything at once. Choose one or two things for your
child to work on.
Give your child time to learn. Behavior may change slowly. For example,
ask your child to play quietly for 10 minutes. Reward him if he does. After
a few days, increase the time to 15 minutes. This time, only reward him if
he plays quietly for 15 minutes. Continue.
Your child could earn points toward a reward or privilege. Use a chart to
show him how he's doing. If he behaves, give him a star (10 stars earns him
a reward). If your child misbehaves, remind him once. If he doesn't correct
his behavior, do not punish him but tell him that he will not get a star.
Make instructions clear and firm. Show your child how to do what you ask.
Avoid situations that make your child cranky, tired, bored, or overly active.
Show your child the right way to do something instead of disciplining him.
Give attention to good behavior and ignore the bad.
Choose one or two things for your child to work on at a time.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Discipline. 1995 November
(cited 2001 September 17). Available from: URL: http://www.aacap.org/publications/factsfam/discplin.htm
American Academy of Family Physicians. Child Behavior: What Parents can
do to change their child's behavior. 2000 October (cited 2001 September 17).
Available from: URL: http://familydoctor.org/handouts/201.html
Weiss SK M.Ed. Basic Home Behavior Management. 1994 July (cited 2001 September
17). Available from: URL: http://www.vh.org/Patients/IHB/Peds/Psych/behaviorManagement.html
KidsGrowth.com. Guidelines for Raising a Well-Behaved Child. 1999-2001 (cited
2001 September 17). Available from: URL: http://www.kidsgrowth.com/resources/articledetail.cfm?id=1159
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