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While every child is different, most children need to be given consistent, clear rules and expectations about behavior. The following are some general principles about discipline:

  • Discipline needs to begin as soon as the child is mobile - pulling up and crawling.
  • Young infants rely on their parents to provide a safe environment.
  • Discipline should be age-focused and should teach age-appropriate behaviors.
  • Try to recognize and praise your child when he/she is being good.
  • Be a good role model for your child.
  • After the discipline occurs, hug your child. Make sure the child knows it is the behavior you are not happy with, not the child.
  • Physical punishment is not needed or appropriate.
  • Rewards for good behavior should be immediate.

Decrease unwanted behavior:

It is important to remember not to reward a child or give positive reinforcement for a bad behavior. For example, if a child is having a temper tantrum, giving him/her a cookie to be quiet is rewarding the child for the bad behavior. In order to help decrease the chance of bad behavior, consider the following:

  • Do not reinforce the behavior; simply ignore the child.
  • The behavior may have to result in an unpleasant consequence, such as punishment.
  • Active punishment has two forms, including the following:
    • denying the child privileges or desired activities, such as decreasing TV time or no dessert
    • undesirable or uncomfortable activities can be required of the child, such as doing chores or having "time-out"
  • The behavior can result in natural consequences. For example, a child who will not eat may go to bed hungry.
  • It is generally accepted that spanking and other forms of physical punishment are not helpful. These types of discipline teach the child aggressive behaviors and poor conflict management.

Methods of discipline:

Discipline methods often depend on the age of the child, and how much the child understands his/her behavior. The following are some suggestions for discipline techniques for each age group:

  • infants and toddlers
    • Safety is the main concern.
    • Infants will respond to a loud, firm voice saying "no."
    • Provide a safe environment that decreases the chances of things being broken by the child.
    • After saying "no," direct your child to an acceptable behavior, such as a toy.
    • Do not reward bad behavior. Ignore temper tantrums, but confront other problems, such as biting or hitting.
    • Praise and reward good behavior.
  • preschoolers
    • Preschoolers need clear and consistent rules.
    • This age group needs time to prepare for the next activity. Give your child a warning before it is time to stop playing.
    • Preschoolers need lots of explanation as to why things are being done.
    • Use time-out for bad behavior.
    • Use praise for good behavior.
  • school-aged children
    School-aged children need the above rules and guidelines plus the following:
    • Give your child chances to explain their side and opinion and opportunities to express their feelings and concerns.
    • Give your child choices.
    • Give your child chances to help solve problems together regarding their behavior.
  • adolescents
    • This age group needs patient and understanding parents as they test all limits.
    • Adolescents need to be told the long-term outcomes of bad behaviors.
    • Adolescents need to be involved with limit-setting, based on their maturity.