How To Discipline A Child: 13 Efficient And Practical Ways

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Discipline is doing what needs to be done, even if you don’t want to do it.

Whoever said it, was absolutely right!

Discipline is perhaps the most important, yet misunderstood, word in a parent’s dictionary. While all parents would agree that their children need discipline, they may have conflicts about the methods used to discipline the child. In this article, MomJunction discusses the importance of discipline in children and the best methods to achieve that.

But first, let us understand what discipline is.

Discipline: Is It Punishment?

What is the first thing you associate with the word discipline?

Punishment? Spanking? Positive reinforcement? Authority?

None of the above options is wrong. Discipline is a practice of training or teaching a person to obey or follow a code of conduct or behavior through punishment, behavior modification techniques, positive reinforcement, or show of authority. In short, discipline is a way of getting the child to do what he or she is expected to do by guiding them.

However, the methods or techniques used to discipline a child vary from parent to parent. For most parents, discipline may mean punishments in the form of time-outs, taking away privileges, setting boundaries such as grounding, or even physical punishment such as spanking. For some, it could mean having an open chat with the child to set expectations and consequences, positive reinforcement, or using logical reasoning to get things done.

While some of these methods are efficient and enable the child to lead a happy and fruitful life, others can turn the child into a rebel, who loathes authority and order. So, how can you be a good disciplinarian?

Keep reading to find out.

How To Be A Good Disciplinarian?

Being a disciplinarian is not easy. It takes a lot of patience, love, and practice to develop the skills to instill discipline in children. Below are some steps to help you develop those skills.

1. Be clear on your expectations

How do you want the child to respond to a question you ask? How do you want the child to behave in front of guests or a public place? What do you mean when you say that you want to discipline children?

If you do not have answers to these questions and are not clear about what you expect the child to say or do, then how can the child know how to behave? A good disciplinarian has clear expectations and is also able to clearly explain them to the children.

[ Read: How To Handle A Disrespectful Child ]

2. Be reasonable

Be practical when you set expectations and keep in mind that nobody is perfect. Set specific, realistic, and limited goals that your child can actually achieve. When you throw expectations that are too difficult to meet, your child might just give up and do what’s easy. A few questions that will help you be more practical are: “Is this expectation easy to understand developmentally”, “is this expectation age appropriate?” or “Is this information something my child is developmentally able to learn and retain?”

3. Be consistent

Breaking the rules every once in a while, because it is convenient for you, is easy. Implementing the rules to the ‘T’ each time is not. By choosing the easy option, you are demonstrating that it is okay to break the rules once in a while. However, by being consistent, you are emphasizing the importance of being disciplined and the need to behave or speak in a particular manner. Consistency leads to children understanding what to expect, which makes children feel their household is safe and stable. Changing the rules and a lack of consistency around expectations leads to children feeling unsafe as the environment becomes more unpredictable and chaotic.

Be consistent at all times and all places. Even if you are in a public place, the child will have to deal with the consequences, and so will you. Your child may find a way to evade any lax in implementing your disciplinary methods. That being said, do not enforce military discipline or do anything that could humiliate or embarrass the child either. Authoritarian parenting styles that use humiliation or embarrassment to discipline children only fosters a deep seeded shame that they may carry with them lifelong and teaches them to fear you rather than teach them any rules.

Once fear is activated in the brain, the amygdala, the part of your brain that activates when an animal’s survival is threatened, takes over. Once this happens, your child has now learned that they must avoid humiliation and embarrassment in order to survive.

If you are not consistent, your child might probably think, “My mom/ dad doesn’t follow the rules all the time, why should I?”

4. Don’t be an authoritarian parent

As the parent, you are the authority in the house. You could choose to be authoritarian or authoritative. What’s the difference?

An authoritarian parent has the “because I told you so” attitude and expects the child to do something without providing any explanation. Authoritarian parenting does not consider the child’s point of view and is usually degrading. Growing children want to be respected and do not appreciate such treatment. So being an authoritarian parent is a bad idea. Furthermore, it has lasting negative effects as mentioned above and on the parent-child relationship.

Unlike an authoritarian parent, an authoritative parent carefully sets the expectations and boundaries, is a good role model, and often praises the child for good behavior (1). By reinforcing a child’s good behavior through praise, you are motivating your child to continue this good behavior. To earn the child’s respect and make him listen to what you have to say, be respectful of the child and his point of view and praise him.

[ Read: Effects Of Authoritarian Parenting Style ]

5. Connect

When you are talking to your child, be100% present with him. Stop whatever you are doing, put your phone away, and face the child. Only when you do that will the child understand that whatever you are going to tell him is important.

Your child is more likely to listen to you or adhere to the rules when he feels emotionally connected to you. Your child needs empathy and attunement, not sympathy. Be empathetic and try to understand what your child is going through. When you respond to your child from a place of understanding, your child will feel understood and be willing to listen to you in return.

6. Keep the conversation open

Do not make absolute statements that shut down the conversations with the child. For example, if the child says, “I hate them! I am not going back to their house!”, do not respond with an “I said you’ll go and that’s final.”

Instead, be curious and empathetic. Respond with “Boy, you really hate them! But why?” to continue the conversation and understand the reason behind the child’s behavior. When you know what is causing a particular behavior, correcting will become easier.

7. Use mistakes as opportunities to teach

Use the child’s mistakes as an opportunity to teach them something new and to be better as individuals. Avoid the urge to react when they say or do something wrong. Try to stay calm, as hard as it can be, and make them understand that what they did or said was wrong. If you are calm, your child will feel safe and remain calm and open as well. Once you point out the mistakes subtly, tell them how to correct them.

To sum it up, a good disciplinarian is one who sets clear expectations, is a good role model, allows the children to choose, and gives the freedom to grow while setting boundaries to keep them safe (2). This allows them to take ownership of their behavior and hold themselves accountable. But how far can you go in setting boundaries? Should children be disciplined by physical punishment?

[ Read: Good Habits In Children ]

Punishment And Discipline Are Not The Same

Is punishment one of the words that come to your mind when you talk about discipline? If yes, you are not alone. A lot of parents grew up thinking that punishing the child, either physically or mentally, is the only way to discipline him.

But here are some reasons why punishment is not an effectiveway to discipline a child:

  • The word discipline is derived from Latin ’disciplina’, which means ‘instruction’ or ’knowledge’. Discipline is about guiding and teaching the child good behavior, while punishment is used as penalty to control the child through fear.
  • While punishment may control certain behaviors in children, it instills the idea that they are not responsible for how they behave. It instills that a child must simply avoid getting punished. This means the child may continue to enact the unwanted behavior while hiding it in the parent’s presence.
  • Humiliating or embarrassing punishments can cause long-term psychological damage to the child.
  • Physical punishment such as spanking can lead to learned aggressive behavior in children. Children subjected to physical punishments are also at a greater risk of mental health problems, physical injury, and developing antisocial behavior (3).
  • Punishments can turn into abuse without your knowledge and cause long-term psychological damage to the children (4).

[ Read: How To Develop Self Control In Children ]

A child, who is often ‘punished’, begins to believe that it is someone else’s responsibility to correct their mistakes. They are always looking for someone to point out their ‘bad’ behavior and punish them for that.

Remember – there are no bad children, only bad behavior. Your aim is not to hurt the child, but to correct the behavior.

Efficient Methods Of Discipline

Discipline aims at teaching the child to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, even though they could be subjective. The idea is to teach the child to adhere to a moral code of conduct and lead a healthy and happy life without harming other people. In this section, we discuss the different forms of discipline, keeping in mind the child’s age.

Ages three to five

Children aged three or above can understand and follow instructions. They can also make a connection between their actions and the result. This is also the age when they begin developing their sense of self as separate from you, which makes it necessary to teach them about boundaries. Here are a few effective ways to discipline your child without punishing them.

1. Positive discipline

As the name says it, positive discipline for children focuses on what is right with the kid rather than what is wrong. The idea is to shift the child’s focus from what is negative to what is positive just by emphasizing only on what needs to be done. This works excellently with younger kids who can be conditioned.

2. Guide the child

Young children do not know right from wrong. They need to be taught about public behavior, talking to new people or guests at home, manners, and communication skills. So be clear and give them simple instructions that they can understand and follow. Guide the child to differentiate between what is acceptable and what is not.

And the best way to do this is to be a role model. Do what is right and behave how you would want the child to act. That means saying “sorry, thank you, excuse me, and please”. This is also the age when they can learn to say “I’m angry”, or “I’m hungry”, and even “I love you”.

3. Reward-based discipline

Conditioning works best when children are too young to understand logic and explanation. Use of punishment is a common way of conditioning someone to behave in a particular manner. However, when you use punishment, you focus on the negative.

Reward based discipline concentrates on the positives, or what the child should continue to do. However, rewards should be given out carefully, lest they become bribes. When you reward the child for every little thing, every time, they will not be motivated to do the right thing when there is no reward.

[ Read: Moral Development In Children ]

One way to prevent that is to teach the child that rewards needn’t always be tangible. It could be a word or praise or even how the child feels. For example, a good feeling or feeling of happiness is the reward in itself when they help someone (like a sibling or even a parent).

4. Cooling periods

Disciplining a stubborn child, who is used to throwing tantrums to get her way, is not an easy task. Children who throw tantrums or scream are usually furious and frustrated and let it out in the form of tantrums. Reprimanding them or trying to get them to do the right thing can turn the interaction into a power struggle and make matters worse. Furthermore, by receiving attention for their tantrum, children often become conditioned to continue using tantrums to get their needs heard and met.

When the child refuses to do as asked or throws a tantrum, give her a cooling period. This period of regulation allows for the child to calm their nervous system so that they are actually able to take in any information you teach them afterwards. Unlike a timeout, which is usually making the child stand in a corner facing the wall, a cooling period is letting the child sit in the comfort of her bed, amidst her favorite toys. This way, the child learns that they are still supported and comforted when they are distressed, but they are also not reinforced in their tantruming behavior..

Once the child calms down, talk to her about why she should not or should behave in a certain manner.

Ages six to eight

At this age, children believe that their parents mean whatever they say. So if you are talking to them about consequences for bad behavior, make sure you follow through with it. Avoid threatening them with huge, impractical punishments that you cannot carry out.

5. Setting rules and boundaries

Children work better when they have a proper structure. Create one with well-defined boundaries to get efficient results. Keep the rules simple and clear, with consequences. That being said, do not go overboard with the rules. Too many rules and restrictions can overwhelm the child and leave them confused. Have a few key rules in place and be consistent with them.

6. Teach them about natural and logical consequences

An efficient way to discipline the child is to use consequences, which work if they occur naturally and can be explained to the child logically and within their developmental understanding. Do not make up consequences for your convenience as children are smart and are able to figure it out sooner than you know.

Natural consequences are unintended consequences, such as how the child feels about something. For instance, if the child lost a toy due to carelessness or if the toy broke because it was left in the cold or heat outside, they may feel sad that they lost this toy and ashamed because they were careless. Don’t replace the toy immediately. Letting the child deal with the sadness of losing the toy can make him understand the importance of taking care of things while also learning how to cope with their emotions.

Logical consequences are not something you randomly pick, but should be chosen carefully. They should be directly related to the bad behavior that should not be repeated and should depend on the behavior that needs to be rectified.

For example, if the child does not do his homework, he cannot watch TV or play the video game. If he leaves the toys outside after playing with them, he will not be allowed to play with them for a week (or a couple of days).

[ Read: Child Behavioral Problems ]

7. Gentle Discipline: Redirection

Gentle discipline is a subtle technique that steers the child away from problems and provides alternatives instead. For example, if the child wants to play with an expensive gadget such as your mobile phone, gently redirect saying “You like to play with a mobile phone? Let’s go get your toy phone to play with instead.” This is verbal redirection.

If the child walks towards a hazardous object or place, you gently nudge him to a safer place through physical redirection. There is no pulling or spanking involved here. Just a gentle, loving touch with a verbal redirection such as, “This side looks better for playing” or “That is too hot, come this way,” should do the trick and deviate the child from harm.

8. Emotion coaching

Children act out through tantrums and other unacceptable behaviors such as hitting, biting, or screaming when they are unable to express their emotions verbally. Emotional coaching is a method of discipline that focuses on teaching the child to identify and express their emotions in words, rather than acting on them. The idea is to tell children that it is okay to express their emotions verbally and to teach them how to do that.

Thus, the next time the child starts to throw things or hit you, stay calm and say “I know it makes you angry that you have to spend a lot of time on your math homework. How about we color a few pictures for some time now and try to solve the math problems after a while?”

Emotion coaching has five steps:

  • i. Be aware of your own emotions
  • ii. Empathize with the child’s emotions, connect with him
  • iii. Listen to the child
  • iv. Name or reflect emotions back to the child: you can create a list of feeling or emotion words or get a poster of emotion faces to assist you (example below)
  • v. Find solutions or ways to deal with whatever is triggering that emotion

Image: Shutterstock

Ages nine to 12

During this developmental stage, children have already developed a sense of self, an understanding of their needs and wants, and an understanding of how they should or should not behave. Children at this age become more argumentative given their newfound identity asn individual, which makes lecturing, yelling, or logical consequences less effective. Therefore, natural consequences, such as feeling shame, are more effective and easier options to discipline children of this age. You can try the following natural disciplining techniques for children of this age.

9. Cause And Effect: Help Them Learn From Their Mistakes

The consequences chosen to discipline the child should be relevant and appropriate for their age. For example, if the child refuses to go to bed on time, let him stay up. The next day when he feels grumpy or sleepy, you can explain that he is feeling that way because he didn’t sleep on time the previous night.

Here, you simply use the natural consequences to help them learn from their mistakes.

10. Provide alternatives

When you just say ‘No’, your child may tend to become stubborn and argumentative. No amount of logical reasoning will work when the child is trying to express his independence through his actions. Rather than insisting on one thing, come up with innovative alternatives that will make them cooperate.

[ Read: Positive Attitude In Kids ]

When you give the child a choice, he shouldn’t have the option of saying ‘No!’. That being said, give the child only two simple options, such that whatever he picks is the right choice.

Additionally, this allows the child to take responsibility over their choices such that they will be more likely to hold themselves accountable to behaving appropriately.

For example, when the child is throwing a tantrum in a store for soda, you can say, “I’ll get you an apple juice or orange juice.” Make it clear that these are the only two choices he has. If he refuses and makes a fuss, don’t lose your cool. Just stay calm and repeat the options until your child gives up and picks one.

Ages 13 and up

Teenagers are not easily convinced as they are learning to become independent individuals and to question authority. Logical or natural consequences may work to an extent. If not, you can try using the following methods of discipline.

11. Discussing or brainstorming to come up with solutions

Teenagers do not like to be told what to do or how to behave. They like to be treated like adults, although they are not yet. Thus, So when your teenager has a behavioral problem or disciplinary issue, don’t give them instructions or threaten them with ultimatums. In short, don’t look at them as the problem.

Make them a part of the solution by discussing the problem with them and coming up with solutions together for the said problem. That way, they will feel more in charge of their actions and would not mind taking your suggestions. Furthermore, in doing so you are teaching them how to navigate life as a young adult and setting them up for success.

12. Take away privileges

When your teen breaks the rules, one of the consequences could be a loss of privileges. For instance, if the child breaks curfew and comes home late, he doesn’t get to use the car for the entire next week. Or you could take away their mobile phone.

The privilege you take away should be related to the bad behavior so that the child will consider the consequences before repeating the behavior in the future.

[ Read: Emotional Development In Kids ]

13. Negotiation

Another way to discipline teenagers is through negotiation. As mentioned earlier, teens like to exercise their independence by making their own choices. When there is a conflict of interest between you and your child, negotiate an agreement. When kids get to participate in reaching an agreement, they’re more likely to stand by it.

The bottom line is that you cannot discipline a child if you don’t abide by the rules yourself. Whether your child is three or sixteen, he will look up to you for inspiration, ideas, and encouragement. For the best results, be more than just a good disciplinarian. Be a good role model for your child, such that they cannot come back and use your behavior as an excuse for their mistakes.

What method do you use to discipline your kids? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Sagari Gongala

Sagari was a math graduate and studied counseling psychology in postgraduate college, which she used to understand people better. Her interest in reading about people made her take up articles on kids and their behavior. She was meticulous in her research and gave information that could be of help to parents in times of need. An animal lover, vegan, and... more