10 Ways to Discipline Your Children

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How to Punish a Child for Being Naughty

Three Parts:

Disciplining children can be a difficult task, especially for willful or older children. Discipline not only teaches children acceptable and unacceptable behavior, but how they are disciplined also teaches them how to react to adverse situations as adults. If you respond to negative behavior with rational discussion and problem solving, your children will learn to do the same, because they will learn more from how you act than from what you say. Most experts agree that the most important part of disciplining children is ensuring they feel safe and loved, and say that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment.


Providing Consequences for Bad Behavior

  1. Set forth clear expectations and consequences.Make sure your child knows exactly what is expected of him/her, and what will happen they break the rules. You can teach your child about the consequences of their actions by explaining the connection between choices and consequences. For example, you can connect your child’s behavior to consequences by saying things such as:
    • “You are choosing to end your time at the park early by misbehaving.”
    • “You lost your turn to play with the toy when you stole it from another child.”
    • “You made the decision to end the play date when you bit your friend.”
    • “By not picking up your toys you chose to lose the privilege of playing with them.”
    • “By not being honest, you lost the privilege of our trust.”
  2. Let your child learn from their mistakes.Actions have natural consequences, and places like school, church, and society all have their own expectations of your child. Sometimes your child will have to learn the hard way that it isn’t just your household that will impose rules on their behavior. Difficult as it may be, it’s important to let your child fail sometimes so that he can learn about consequences.
    • For example, instead of you staying up late to help the night before an assignment is due, let your child get a bad grade they didn’t do their homework. This lesson is especially important for older children to learn since they will start to expect more independence and trust from you.
    • With young children, this lesson may take on a less severe form. For example, if your child breaks a toy on purpose, do not replace it. This will help him learn what it means to be responsible and how it feels to lose something.
    • Children of all ages must also learn to be respectful of others, so don’t intervene if your child didn’t get invited to a party or event because they were mean to other children.
  3. Use timeouts if necessary.A timeout is an excellent way to allow children and parents time to calm down after an emotional situation. Select an area that is quiet and free of distractions, but not necessarily out of your sight. Ask your child to use the time to think about some solutions to the problem that resulted in the timeout.
    • Don’t use timeout to humiliate or punish.
    • For young children, especially those under three, use a timeout mat so that you can still keep an eye on him or her. The mat is also portable, and can be used for timeouts when you aren’t home.
    • Timeout should last no longer than one minute for each year of your child’s age.
  4. Take away a privilege or toy.Do this right after the offense, so that your child understands and connects the bad behavior with the punishment. Use this opportunity to teach your child about natural and logical consequences by matching the revoked toy or privilege with the offending behavior.
    • Physical items like toys will work better with younger children, while an older child may respond better to the loss of a privilege or freedom he had been granted.
    • Don’t give in and end the punishment early, or next time your child will know that they can control the situation.
    • Privileges that can be taken away include watching television, playing on the computer or video games, playing with friends, trips to the park, parties or use of the family vehicle for older children.
  5. Avoid physical punishment.Corporal punishment is illegal in many countries and regions, it can negatively affect the parent-child relationship, and it can damage your child’s normal social development. Most experts agree that while physical discipline has effects on your child’s immediate behavior, it won’t teach him/her right from wrong. Instead of providing your child with the power to control his/her own emotions, corporal punishment will teach him/her that physical violence is an acceptable reaction to anger and adverse situations.
    • Corporal punishment can lead to aggressive behavior.
    • There is no evidence that physical discipline is an effective means of curbing future misbehavior.
    • The negative effects of corporal punishment can follow children into adulthood in the form of mental health problems and substance abuse.
  6. Remove temptations for young children.Young children and babies are curious and it may be hard for them to understand that certain items are off-limits. An alternative option is to remove these items from your child’s view so that they will not be tempted.
    • For example, if you do not want your child to play with your phone or another electronic item, then put it up somewhere that they cannot see or reach it.

Making the Child Aware of Misbehavior

  1. Remain calm.It’s ok to step away from a situation and give yourself time to cool off. Deferring punishment gives you time to contemplate reasonable disciplinary action, and time for your child to think about what they have done. Be clear that you need time to calm down, and that you will discuss the matter when you’re ready.
    • Resist the urge to be sarcastic, threaten, or criticize. This will just upset your child more, and could have lasting effects on their self-esteem.
    • Watch for the warning signs of fight or flight mode, such as a racing heart, sweaty palms, and shakiness. This can happen when you are extremely angry, annoyed, or hurt.
    • Practice different relaxation techniques and find what works for you. Deep breathing, long walks, meditation, and baths are good ways to calm down. Some people even find cleaning, exercising, or reading to be excellent ways to settle down.
  2. Tell your child “no.” Act as soon as you spot your child misbehaving and draw their attention to the behavior. It’s important that you explain why their behavior isn’t acceptable, and that he understands why they are being reprimanded. This will teach him that their actions have consequences.
    • Be firm, but don’t yell. If you yell to communicate your emotions, your child will learn to do the same.
    • Remain calm and act quickly, but not out of anger.
    • Speak clearly and make eye contact.
    • For a younger child or toddler, get down to their level when you speak to him.
    • Provide an explanation if your child is old enough to understand. Keep it feeling based and focus on how their behavior affects and hurts other people. For a tween or teen, discuss the repercussions of their actions or decisions on a larger scale.
  3. Remove your child from the situation.If your child is acting out, getting angry or frustrated, or being disruptive, walk away from the situation with him. Provide them with a safe space to discuss their emotions and actions, and talk about how he can improve their conduct in the future. Remember that children don’t always know how to properly express themselves, and punishment isn’t always the best way to teach them.
    • Be encouraging and reassure your child that you are there to support him.
    • Tell your child you love him.
    • Soothe him by saying you understand.
    • A young child will respond best to cuddles and physical closeness at this time, which will make him feel safe and loved.
    • An older child who is starting to push away might not want cuddles now, but reassure him that you are there to support him, and teach him ways he can sooth or calm himself. This includes deep breathing, counting, distracting himself, listening to calming music, and visualization techniques.
  4. Establish yourself as the boss.Children will often be disobedient and refuse to listen if they think they can get away with it. Create a mantra that reminds the child that you are in charge. Repeat the slogan when he misbehaves. Stick to decisions that you make, otherwise your child will think he is in control. Remember that you are the parent and not a friend, and your job isn’t to be liked, but to keep your child safe and healthy, and to teach him decency and responsibility.
    • To establish control, try phrases like “I’m the parent,” or “I’m in charge here.”
    • Don’t back down, no matter what kind of tantrum he throws. Don’t give in even if they try to manipulate you (like by holding their breath).
    • An older child may try to challenge you on this. Encourage him to participate in discussions about decisions that affect their life, and explore how different options will impact him. Remember that ultimately, the final decision is yours, but be prepared to explain how you reached it so he can see the responsible decision making process.

Positively Reinforcing Good Behavior

  1. Model good behavior.Your child needs to observe good behavior to know what it looks like. No matter how old your child is, they will notice how you respond and behave in all kinds of situations. Make sure that you are modeling the kinds of behavior that you want your child to display.
    • For example, if you want your child to use good manners, then make sure that you model this behavior for your child. This might be as simple as saying “please” and “thank you,” or waiting patiently in line at the grocery store.
  2. Give praise.Sometimes children act out because they know they’ll get attention, so recognize, acknowledge, and show appreciation for good behavior instead of just reacting to bad conduct. This promotes self-esteem, encourages more good behavior, and discourages acting out. Focus on your feelings and how their behavior positively affects you both, and he will learn that good behavior is its own reward.
    • Tell him when you are proud of a good choice he made.
    • Be specific when you praise him and emphasize the behavior you want to acknowledge.
    • Depending on their age, thank them for good listening skills, sharing, or for completing chores and tasks.
    • Compare past behavior with present actions and focus on how he has improved. Set realistic goals for further improvement in the future.
  3. Reward good behavior.Give your child a small prize to thank him for listening, playing nicely, completing chores, and other good behaviors. Granting a privilege can also be used as a reward, but avoid using food, as this can lead to bad eating habits. Don’t bribe your child into behaving by giving rewards beforehand.
    • Some families use a sticker chart to track positive changes for a younger child. Tell them what is expected of him in order to earn a sticker, and at the end of the day have a family meeting where you discuss their conduct that day and what they did to earn a sticker (or not).
    • Points systems can also work, where good behavior earns children points that can be redeemed for fun activities or gifts.Points systems can earn an older child privileges like use of the car or time with their friends.
  4. Allow your child to make some decisions.Children often act out because they feel they have no control. Grant your child the power to make some small decisions and he will feel more in control, and will act out less.
    • Allow him to choose between a book and coloring before dinner or bedtime when he’s young.
    • Let him pick out their own clothes.
    • Give them the option of what toys to play with in the bath.
    • Ask them what kind of sandwich he prefers for lunch.
    • As they gets older, the decisions can get slightly more important. Let they choose classes if his school allows that, or let they decide what after school sports or activities to participate in.
    • Let them choose what snack they want at the supermarket.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    How could I ground my child for a year?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    I would not recommend doing this. That goes beyond a reasonable punishment and could cause your child to become depressed.
  • Question
    How do I punish my child when he misbehaves in school?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You may not need to, if the administration or teacher has already disciplined him. Focus on talking to him and see if you can get to the bottom of the misbehavior. You can certainly assess whether an additional punishment is warranted, based on the offense.
  • Question
    What can I do if my child is hurting others often?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If he is being a bully to other children, keep him in for a few days away from the other childen, and explain to him that others have feelings to and he wouldn't like it if he got bullied. Use examples specific to the child to help him understand. Talk to him and find out if there is something bothering him that is causing his aggressive behavior. See a counselor or therapist for ideas, strategies and help.
  • Question
    As a punishment for breaking her sister's computer I stopped my daughter from going to her best friend's party. When I told the friend's mum she was very upset with me. What should I do now?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It's completely none of her business how you discipline your child. If she brings it up to you again, tell her that. Your daughter was careless and she was punished for it, end of story. Stick to your guns, it's important for children to learn there are consequences to their actions.
  • Question
    How do I help my parents with my 1 year old sister? She is very mischievous.
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    At 1, she is too young to know right from wrong. If you find she is misbehaving or causing problems, try to distract her and keep her out of trouble.
  • Question
    What if my child joins a gang?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    This can be very serious. If it is a full-out street gang, do not let your child out alone where he/she might meet them. If he objects, take things away. If the behavior continues, find someone who can help.
  • Question
    What an is appropriate punishment at home for a six year old's bad behavior at school?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Withhold things that your child is usually allowed to enjoy after school. For example, if you normally give your child a chocolate bar or other sweet snack, don't give him one for one night. If you normally let him play video games or watch TV at night, forbid him from playing games for the night and set the TV on a channel that he won't like very much. Just remember that every child is different and there is not one universally right answer.
  • Question
    What do I do when my child is feeling lonely at school?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You can try signing them up for a school club, or you can encourage them to make friends with other students in their class.
  • Question
    How can I get my spouse to stop using spanking as a punishment for our eight-year-old? The child is becoming depressed, not eating well, and having nightmares.
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Talk to your spouse about your concerns. You deserve to have input on this matter and you need to stick up for your child. This could have long lasting effects. Agree on another form of punishment (time outs, no TV/phone, etc.) and make sure your spouse sticks with it. If your spouse refuses to agree to this, they do not respect you or your child and do not deserve a relationship with either one of you.
  • Question
    If one kid hurts the others, could that be bullying and/or misbehaving?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Of course. I suggest that you give the child a time out (if he's very young) or ground him. Reward him if he corrects his behavior and starts being nice.
Unanswered Questions
  • What should you do if a hypersensitive child/teenager has a mental breakdown after they were punished for something they regretted?
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  • Consistency is the key to successful discipline. Make sure all caregivers understand how and when your child should be disciplined.
  • Be firm: don’t let your child get his way just because they throw a tantrum.
  • Be patient, and remember that young children especially don’t have the faculties to tell you what’s wrong, and their actions may stem from frustration.

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